Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas: Continuous Evolution

"How much is there?" I asked, resigned to having the discussion and acknowledging it was good to be prepared even though there's no urgency to it.

"$600,000 in stocks," Mom replied as we drove home from the credit union. "Another $100,000 in our bank accounts. Life insurance should be $200,000. Then there's the house and cars - everything's paid for, but you know that."

"And everything should be split between the girls?" I confirmed, mentally filing information so I could get things done should something happen.

"I'd like for them to both go to school," Mom said. "But everything goes to you so it's really your decision."

I nodded, thinking of how lost I'd felt when Grandma died. How it was probably best that Mom was putting paperwork in order so I could just act without too much thought.

We had taken a family picture in the morning before opening gifts. Mom and her sister, Aunt. Their respective husbands and both sets of two children. The cousins' husbands and their one child each. Brother, his girlfriend, the Ones. And me.

Little One requested the photo, leaving Uncle to perch is camera on the shelves at one end of the living room and the rest of us to cluster around Dad's recliner and giggle as we squished together to fit in the frame. I smiled at the images that appeared once we were done - the jumble of colors and shapes and smiles that made up our casual portrait. How I hope the four children seated on the floor at the front of the picture remembered laughter and love from their early Christmases.

In the afternoon, before I made the drive north, we went to the bank to fill out forms, adding my name to my parents' accounts and fetching power of attorney forms to review. I dutifully listened and handed over my identification and signed and dated forms. I cringed when I thought of floral arrangements and caskets despite myself, of standing next to Brother and explaining what had happened to the Ones.

"Your ring is pretty," Smallest One said before her nap yesterday. She asked where I'd gotten it after I thanked her.

"It was my grandma's," I told her. "No," I smiled when she turned her head to look at Mom. "Your grandma's mom was my grandma."

"Where is she?" Smallest One asked, reaching to touch the small diamond on my right hand.

"She's in Heaven, sweetheart," I replied, glancing at Mom and reaching for her hand to squeeze in comfort.

"Oh," Smallest One said, curling closer to her grandmother and watching me solemnly. "Does she like being in Heaven?"

When I did get back home and unpacked my car, I searched through old photos until I found the one I wanted. I'd asked that we take it and Uncle had set us up in front of the house on a summer day. Grandma and Mom and Dad, Aunt, Uncle and Uncle's mother. Brother and Cousins and me. Huddled together, arms hugging or linked, a moment of laughter and love before the dynamic changed.

"I'll be 32 on January 18," I reminded Aunt as I tucked my hand in hers and rested my head on her shoulder. We'd just been talking about how the children were getting so big - talking and playing and making me wonder exactly how long it had been since they were wailing babies, leaving us to spend Christmas-past rocking and patting and burping instead of watching them run around and play complicated games.

"I know," Aunt replied, turning her head to kiss the top of mine. And I took comfort from that moment, hugged my parents a little too long before beginning my drive and hoped things didn't change too quickly. While I doubt I'll ever be ready, I know it's not time yet.

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