What a truly amazing time this has been, these last nine weeks! So overflowing with wonderful things, I’ve had scarcely any time to write! But now it’s Sunday night, January 3rd, my houseful is asleep, and I’m awake and feeling at last like I might be able to squeak out a little blog post.
Michigan was incredible. I drove 1,237 miles in two days to get there, and eight days after I made it, my new grandgirl arrived! I spent one day shy of six weeks there and, while there, I drove 2,225 miles tending to seventy-seven client visits and five births (ohmygosh, did I ever forget how exhausting a full practice is), taking part in several meaningful gatherings with loved ones, celebrating my son’s engagement to his lovely Megan, and spending an evening with a freshly grieving widow. Then I drove the 1,237 miles back home over another two days, cleaned my house on the third day, fetched my family (Jesse, Hannah, Evangeline, Paul, and Megan) from the Denver airport, returned to Denver on day five for Evangeline’s tongue and lip tie revisions, went skiing with the crew at Monarch, celebrated Christmas, went snowshoeing over three days at Rocky Mountain National Park (nine of us total, including Steve’s Brian, Adam, and Megan stuffed into a four person cabin), celebrated the dawning of the New Year, visited with all sorts of fun friends at home and abroad, cooked, cleaned, and spent every spare moment I could sneak in getting to know Evangeline Heidi. My, but how I do love that remarkable new person! I can hardly believe she’ll be eight weeks old in nine hours!
I woke early Christmas morning, as is my way (every day), and I sat quietly in the downstairs bathroom (as, actually, I am right now, since my home was then and is now crammed with snoozing loved ones), thinking back over past Christmastimes, my smile lines brimming with warm, salty tears.
Christmastime, with ThanksGiving at its Eve, is my favorite time of every year, and it has been my favorite time for all of my life. Every single Christmas time has felt magical in its holiness, but a few were so really by pure, gritty determination, as they were entered into with aching hearts.
Many wonderful things have happened at our Christmastimes. Our Hannah was born at Christmastime, 1991, we found our Paul existed toward ThanksGiving, 1994, then our sweet Evangeline followed along this year. Both of my sisters, my daughter, and my second husband, Steven, and I were married in these seasons. Within another, my much loved aunt moved home from California. I completed my midwifery apprenticeship at the start of the 2002 festivities, and through nearly every ThanksGiving and Christmas season over the last twenty-two years I’ve taken part in welcoming a number of glorious new babies to earth. But some hard things have happened at some of our Christmastimes too. Only last December my grandmother Helen, the last of my grandparents, passed from life. Twelve years earlier we discovered my first husband, Brent’s, mother had cancer, and we watched her waste away through the next holiday. In the summer of 2004, our hearts broke as we lost her, and, immediately upon the heels of her death, we learned Brent had cancer. We spent the Christmas season of 2004 grieving the loss of Brent’s mom while enduring the final rounds of Brent’s ultimately fruitless chemotherapy, then we learned Brent’s case of cancer was terminal at Christmas, 2005, and we said good-bye to him through the Christmastime of 2006.
So, I rose early on this year’s Christmas Day, Christmas Day, 2015, to read and write and think and pray. I rose early and I squirreled myself away with my journal and my Bible in the downstairs bathroom. I nestled into the bathroom, and sat quietly with my feet at the heater, a cup of coffee in my hand, and my journal on my lap. And, as I sat there, waking and warming, my thoughts traced their way back through those forty-five years worth of Christmastimes, lingering especially over the last few Christmastimes, with my thoughts pausing to hover over the Christmastime of 2011.
2011 was the year that brought all the other years without Brent to heart-wrentching climax. Or else I guess I could say it was the year I felt I’d just about reached the limits of what I could bear. By the evening of Christmas Day, 2011, Hannah and Paul and I had spent five ThanksGivings and Christmases without Brent Woodard. Each of those seasons held reflections of what the years themselves had held. Overall, good things. Love. Significance. Blessings. Miracles. But in every moment, even within the brightest moments, a shadowy specter of loss and loneliness trailed stealthily after me. When I was weariest… when I was home and alone in my dark room and dreadfully empty bed after hours upon hours tending moms and babies while, husbandless, I wrestled to feed and clothe and educate and clean up after my two fatherless children… when I laid alone upon my dreadfully empty bed in my dark and chilly room, I could feel the rustlings of that faceless phantom, and I could hear the whispers of his hollow voice… in the chilly dark, doubts would materialize in my mind, as would images of long and lonely years stretching endlessly before me. But I did my best to make those Christmastimes special – yes, we, the children and I together, worked hard to make them special. We made them special in spite of having lost husband and dad. Husbandless and fatherless, we made them special in the face of the disappointments and frustrations and challenges and other losses that tumbled about in the wake of those losses. We made them special in spite of the financial crisis the inability to sell our house through four years-worth of a crashed market was creating. We made them special in spite of supremely difficult births two Christmas Eves running… we made them special while sliding off a road and into a ditch on one Christmas day, and we made them special while getting two flat tires our next Christmas Day – two flat tires coupled and compounded with the obstacles presented by having the tow truck driver who came to rescue us arrive without an air compressor, without gasoline, and with only one spare seat. In 2011, husbandless and fatherless, and having just spent an especially demoralizing year, with a house teeming with teenagers – Hannah (well, truthfully, Hannah was newly twenty) and Paul, Jin-Ah from Germany, Yong from Thailand, and Meghan (Meghan was from nearby) – I worked so hard with my children to make Christmas special. We held fast to our faith and to one another, we observed and shared treasured traditions while crafting a few new ones, and, though through it all we were generally and fairly emotional, for all that – in spite of all that – possibly because of all that – we succeeded. Still, as the calendar stood poised to flip us into 2012, weary from my efforts and feeling more alone in the world than I ever had felt in all my life, with that ghost dogging and nagging me, the future loomed unappealing, and I didn’t feel one bit like plunging into it.
But I had to plunge into it, and, as I did, after seemingly so long longing for them, the miracles began to unfold until I rose this most recent Christmas morning (to huddle upon a toilet because our home was so full of love and new life and our numberless answered prayers it was the only private place to huddle) and was struck to my depths at the way the darkness had given way to the light, and at how effortlessly magical that transformation had made this Christmastime – this Christmastime, 2015 – and it made me cry. For a long while I sat there on that stool, remembering and thinking and marveling and crying.
And then I thought of the host of other souls we share this world with, so many haunted by their own ghosts of sorrow, and I cried still more. Those of you engulfed with grief… those of you with achingly empty arms, staggering beneath crushing burdens… those of you with smoldering dreams and faltering hope and quaking faith… please know, though I may not know your name, I’m thinking of you and praying for you. I believe with all my heart there’s One Who knows your name! I believe He knows your name indeed. Call to Him. Call to Him, and watch Him come to you, though His coming will be on His Own terms and in His Own time.
I realize this isn’t much of a birthy story, but I hope I’ll be forgiven this departure from birth as I take a long, shuddering exhale and share a little of what’s flooded my heart through this multifariously and deeply Holy season.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word do I put my Hope.” Psalm 130:5
“I’ve stilled and quieted my soul…” Psalm 131:2
Photos by Kim Woodard Osterholzer and Steve Osterholzer
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
If you enjoyed this article, let’s stay connected! I welcome you to subscribe to my blog, and to join in the conversation by commenting below! And be sure to poke around here a bit, as there are lots more stories awaiting you.
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
Books by Kim: