When we understood and accepted that Peter would ultimately die from his brain tumor, we realized that we would begin marking time differently. Many who have traveled this path before us told us that we were going to be in for a season of "firsts", and our first holidays without Peter would be difficult. Tina and I have already felt many firsts come and go, like the beginning of school and the passage of Halloween, and each one has tugged at our heartstrings. Peter wasn't a huge Thanksgiving fan since he really wasn't old enough to appreciate a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings, nor was he a huge fan of parades or football. With that in mind, I don't feel like Thanksgiving will cause our reflections on Peter's absence to be any stronger or different than any other day; however, Thanksgiving is the gateway to the Christmas Season, and I know that our Christmas celebrations this year will be much different.
Christmas of 2006 came right on the heels of Peter's diagnosis, and we felt just about anything but merry. Our hearts were torn between shock, hope and horror as we contemplated the sheer weight of what we faced. When Christmas morning dawned, our happy precocious boy had been replaced by an emotionally distant, depressed child who seemed lost in every way. No matter what we tried, we could not break through the miasma that enveloped Pete, and our hearts broke as we watched the joy of Christmas have no impact on our suffering child. That was a Christmas we vowed not to repeat, and when Christmas rolled around a year later, the spirit in our home had changed entirely.
We faced the brunt of Peter's illness in 2007, including coming to grips with the truth that he wouldn't survive the tumor. We saw, however, a powerful miracle take place as he returned to school when his tumor stabilized just before Halloween. A second stable MRI before in early December confirmed that we would indeed be celebrating a very special Christmas with Peter, and Tina vowed that we would do everything we could to make that Christmas one to remember. We decorated the house inside and out like we had never decorated before. Christmas music played non-stop on my iPod docking station (and not the annoying stuff they play on the radio, either!), and the house seemed saturated with the smells of good things baking in the kitchen every day. We truly celebrated our Savior's birth into mortality last year, and our home felt wrapped in a halo of light for those weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Peter's joy and excitement that Christmas was as strong and infectious as his depression the previous year had been, and I cherish the photos and videos we have of him at every activity and traditional family event, like acting out the Nativity, or building a gingerbread house. The amazing finale to our holiday season came during our miraculous trip to Montana, made possible by the amazing generosity of someone we didn't even know. I don't think I've ever seen Peter so eager to participate in anything like he was when he went sledding and skiing during that trip, and the generosity of our hosts and the herculean efforts of my mom to make it all happen will never be forgotten.
Peter lived less than three months after our return from Montana, and watching him finally succomb to that blasted tumor was the hardest thing I believe I will ever witness. It left a void in my soul, and I feel the emptiness every day. Luckily, the Lord hasn't forgotten nor forsaken us, and I have felt peace, comfort and reassurance during those moment of excruciating loneliness, and I come through it each time with a new hope for being whole again. Now, we face the Christmas Season once more, and our family will approach it differently than we have ever have before. We know that we can neither duplicate nor exceed the kind of joy we felt last Christmas, so we are not going to try. Rather than inviting direct comparisons to what we consider the perfect Christmas, we will try something new by packing up and leaving town. We plan on spending time with some old family friends, the Parkinsons, at a beach house in Florida, and we are already busily preparing for what promises to be a fun week of new experiences. In honor of Peter, we will light as many luminarios as possible on Christmas Eve and reflect on the beauty of his short, eventful life. I look forward to just sitting on the sand in the cool of the evening, listening to the voice of the gulf telling me its secrets and watching the children play along the beach, digging holes, collecting shells and getting sand in their hair and in between their toes. We hope that by taking this trip, we will remember this Christmas more for being the first time we celebrated at the beach rather than it being the first Christmas we faced without the little man.