Inflatable Santa in the yard of DC widow Marjorie Brimley

Decorating for Christmas

My front yard looks like something out of one of those bad Christmas movies.  I’m serious.  There are lights randomly strewn about, two fake deer, a dozen solar-powered candy canes and two massive inflatable figures – a snowman and a Santa.  I bought none of this stuff – it was all Shawn.

Last year, he set it all up even though he was in the emergency room less than 24 hours later.  I know he worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out the wiring system he used, and he had very specific ideas about how the lights should look.  When I think back on it, I remember him being a bit short of breath, actually, but I figured it was just exertion after a week of laying in bed.  God, the things I rationalized then.  It’s actually kind of amazing when I think back on it.

As you can imagine, when I went to set up for Christmas this year, I was overwhelmed just by opening the boxes of decorations.  Of course, it’s great to have kids because their joy in decorating for Christmas definitely overwhelmed any degree of sadness I was feeling.  The tree wasn’t too difficult – we set it up and got all of the ornaments on and I didn’t even cry.  (Small victories, right?)  But the outside lights were a totally different story.  When I opened the boxes, I found all of the decorations inside, but I also found endless strings of lights and bulbs and dozens of cords and plugs.  I had no idea how it all went together.

I figured I didn’t need to put it all up, but I knew the kids would want the lawn ornaments displayed.  So we lugged those things to the front of the house, and I arranged it in what I thought was at least a little bit artful.  The extension cord arrangement took me almost an hour to configure, but I finally got it to work.  I actually jumped up and down when it all lit up.

Of course, Shawn had some sort of system where the lights would come on with the click of a button that we could hit from our bedroom.  He always loved tech stuff.  I tried three different plugs, but I couldn’t get it to work.  “Whatever,” I said to the kids.  “I’ll just plug it in every evening and unplug it at bedtime.”

This, of course, is annoying as hell.  Usually I remember to unplug them right about the time that I’m drifting off to sleep, which means I have to drag myself out of bed and to the basement to shut off the lights.  But really, am I going to get one of my friends to come over and figure this out for me?  Really?  I need to use my “asks” to request help with my kids or get me some staples at the store or help me repair one of the dozens of actual things broken in my house.  I just don’t care enough about my Christmas lighting issues to waste my social capital on them.

So every day when I come home from work, I plug in the lights and I wait until the snowman and the Santa fully inflate because if I don’t, one of them will inevitably get stuck in a bush or something.  Oddly, I feel a lot of pride about how it looks, and when I drive by other houses with elaborate Christmas decor, I always think, “well, mine looks just as great as theirs!”

A couple of days ago, I drove by a neighbor’s house and saw that they had a massive inflatable set of snowmen in their front yard.  Tommy was in the backseat and he immediately started screaming and pointing at the snowmen.  “SNOWMEN!”

I laughed, and slowed down so we could get a better look.  There were three snowmen all standing together – a baby snowman standing between what was obviously a mom snowman and a dad snowman.

And in that moment I thought, “seriously?  Even the snowmen in my neighborhood are part of a nuclear family with a mom and a dad?”

I could feel the frustration starting to boil over.  I knew it was irrational.  But I just couldn’t help it.  I mean, the damn INFLATABLE SNOWMEN are now reminding me that my kids are growing up without a father.

I actually understood in the moment that I was overreacting.  But that’s what’s crazy about this year – I never quite know when I’m going to feel like I want to cry.

Eventually, Tommy and I returned to our house.  The lights were on, but the wind had blown our Santa over.  His head was stuck in the bushes again.  “Santa!” Tommy cried, and ran up to him.

Together, we picked him up and made him stand straight again.  Tommy ran around the yard and tried to adjust the fake deer.  Even though I felt proud that I had put up the decorations, in that moment I realized that my yard looked terrible, nothing like it would have looked if Shawn were here.  It was like I was trying to make it over-the-top, but stopped halfway there.  Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

At least Tommy didn’t care.  “Do you like our decorations?” I asked him.

“Yes!” he said.  “Maybe next year we can get those big big snowmen we saw today!”

“Maybe next year,” I said as we walked in the house.

Maybe next year.


  • Amy

    You are doing great! Your kids don’t want or need perfection at the holidays or any day. It’s so hard to remember that and to let go of perfection or what we planned or what we dreamed of. Just enjoy what is, in the moment❤️(Says the mom who actually kicked the space heater out of frustration while trying to put up her Christmas tree in a non-cooperative stand)🤪

    • Marjorie

      I know that kids really don’t need perfection – that’s something that I really do understand. And yet – I still worry about it! That’s the funny thing about being a mom and especially a widowed mom. But I really appreciate the encouragement! 🙂

  • Melissa

    My husband always put the outdoor decorations on a timer so they’d come on automatically and then go off without having to schlep out there and unplug them. I didn’t attempt that when I put them up, although I probably could figure it out if I wanted to devote the time to it. Which I don’t. 🙂 It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s just one more thing this year that isn’t “normal.”

    And I get it about the rationalizations. We both did a lot of that too, because you really don’t want to consider the more frightening possibilities if there’s something else to hold on to.

    • Marjorie

      I know – it’s crazy what the human mind can rationalize. I mean, the doctors were telling us that Shawn was going to die, Shawn knew he was going to die and….I still couldn’t really accept it until the very very end. I guess that’s how love can blind us.

  • Miranda

    My Christmas decorations are sitting in boxes in the living room. I pulled everything out of the garage, started crying, and asked the kids if we really had to decorate this year? I have left everything out, hoping the motivation will come. Alas, it hasn’t. I am accepting this year boxes of Christmas decorations in the living room is as good as it is going to get. This is our first year without Dad, so we are going to get through it however we can. Maybe next year the decorations will leave the boxes. Maybe next year.

    • Marjorie

      That’s right – maybe next year. I figure I get a pass for at least a few years before people start worrying about me. And judging from the other comments on this blog, it looks like a lot of people didn’t do much with decorating during their first holidays without their spouses. Sending hugs.

  • Paula

    One of my enduring Christmas memories was having the tree fall over on me while opening gifts. Perfection is overrated 🙂 And knowing it and owning it, in this day and age and given the circumstances, you should chalk up to a huge, huge win. I admire that. Merry Christmas! May 2019 bring you and your littles the joy and peace you deserve!

  • Melanie

    Awww, Marjorie, this made me cry, but you are way ahead of me. It took me 3 years to even put up a tree, and I did it that third year because my grandson was coming and was aware of Christmas. Your decorations are fine. In fact, they are beautiful, especially considering all you have been through this year. Don’t be afraid to ask for help for seemingly small things, like the light set-up. Your friends sound wonderful and very helpful. As for the snowmen, I’ve learned that although everyone else seems happy, everyone has a story and you never know what sorrows the people in those “happy” homes are carrying. And although your children lost their dad, they have a fantastic mother who loves them very much.
    PS: You can always plug the whole thing into a timer.

  • Kate

    My husband passed away suddenly in October in a freak accident. Most days, I can hardly breathe, yet somehow I manage to shower, get dressed, take my son to school and go to work. Christmas was a big deal in our home. My husband took great pride in the outdoor decorations and inflatables. We had annual traditions that were very special and important to us. My son loves Christmas and decorating is important to him. We managed to get a tree, set it up, decorate it and I put up the outdoor inflatables. Just like you, I have to remember to plug and unplug them each day because I cannot figure out how the timer works either. But, my son is happy and that is most important. We watch Christmas movies together and drink hot cocoa and then we talk about his Dad. We tell funny stories. Funny stories about his father, funny stories about our life together. My son doesn’t want to talk about the horrific scenes that took place in October. So, we live in the past, even if it is just for now…. I miss my husband and my son misses his father.

    • Marjorie

      Well if it helps you feel any better, I couldn’t do ANYTHING for about 4 months besides write and doing basic parenting of my children. The fact that you got everything decorated just two months after your husband died is incredible. Sending hugs.

  • Henry

    Nice decorations – but where are the other six reindeer?
    This is the second Christmas that friends have put up the tree and decorations for me.

  • Bastiaan

    Your comment “ seriously? Even the snowmen in my neighborhood are part of a nuclear family with a mom and a dad?” Only a month after Shaila’s funeral I was in a store with my boys (19 and 23) and the sales representative said “ are you guys friends? It startled me and then I realized, without Shaila being present, there would be no explanation why these young men with dark completions would be related to me. Our family had changed. We sit in restaurants and now there is always that empty chair that reminds us that she is missing. But perhaps what is missing the most is her amazing conversations, wit and intelligence.

    • Marjorie

      What a beautiful comment. I too miss the conversations that I had with my husband – they were the best.