Christmas is my favorite holiday and time of the year. When I was little I used to admire the Christmas tree decorations that my mom kept in one of the drawers of our dining room, though we never put up a Christmas tree at home. Even my first singing experience onstage was for a Christmas celebration at school.
When I think about Christmas, family comes first into mind. My mom’s side of the family, whose members are scattered all over the world and every couple of years or so make the effort to gather and celebrate together. Every year it grows, with additions of spouses and children. My late husband was one of the additions.
Speaking of additions, I was one of them, too, for his family. On Christmas day, after church, we used to pay a visit to his aunt’s–his dad’s eldest sister–house to meet everyone from his dad’s side of the family. Then afterwards we would travel halfway around Jakarta to visit his mom’s family house. His parents separated when he was six, hence the arrangement.
Not long after our daughter was born, my husband’s dad passed away in his hometown in North Sulawesi. He never had the chance to see his grand-daughter. My husband was devastated because not only did they lose communication during the time his dad fled to his hometown, leaving his wife and daughter behind, which made the bad news worse, but also because the cause of death was suspected from his drinking habit, which then caused internal bleeding that eventually killed him. My husband flew there to have his dad buried. I stayed in Jakarta with my daughter because it was impossible to bring her along if I went too. We kept going to his aunt’s house every Christmas that followed. Except that we no longer saw his dad there.
Just when we were beginning to get used to it, another lightning struck. One day my husband called me from work with shocking news: his mom was arrested and detained at a police station. He heard it from his half-brother (his mom’s son with his step-father), who thought he had to tell my husband despite the protests from his mom’s sisters. It brought him down even more than the death of his dad. Especially when eventually she was proven guilty and put behind bars. One time he said to me, “My dad died because of alcohol. My mom’s in jail for selling drugs. What does that make me?” I was crushed when I heard him saying that but I knew he must’ve been more crushed than I was, and the sad thing was neither I nor he could do anything about it. They brought it upon themselves.
My husband never said that we were not to say it to anyone else. Subconsciously I think we knew who to tell and who’s not. Of course we told my parents. But that’s it. We chose not to tell my extended family. If they asked we just said she was unavailable, like out-of-town unavailable. We were also careful not to let our housemaid know about it, since we could not control what she’s going to say to the neighbours, however seemingly unnecessary. It was more like we were protecting my parents, actually.
And of course there’s our daughter. The first Christmas her grandma spent behind bars, our daughter was 4 years old. We brought her along to visit and she had no idea that the place we were visiting was a place for, as much as I hate to say this, criminals. She was still too little to understand and what mattered for her that day was she met her grandma, who suddenly stopped coming around to play with her. Another adjustment for Christmas day, for us.
Then my husband passed away less than six months after that Christmas. People started to wonder why his mom did not show up for his funeral. Neither was his step-dad. I was forced to say, to my extended family and my closest friends, the truth. I didn’t mind telling them the truth, actually, but I never thought that I was forced to do it under such circumstances. It must have been twice, or thrice, the shock for some. The same went for me when I called my husband’s step-mom to tell her about his death that night and learned that his little half-sister (18) gave birth only days before. Too much going on in my mind that day that I was almost glad my husband already passed away so he didn’t have to go through all of those things. His question, “What does that make me?” kept playing in my head.
Last Christmas, I tried to do the right thing by visiting both my late husband’s aunt’s house and the prison. I brought my daughter along because, above all, I simply didn’t want her to lose contact with her dad’s side of the family. She was generally fine when I brought her to see her grandma, but I saw a little confusion in her. I sensed that she knew something was not ‘normal’ about the visit.
But this year my daughter is 6. She can read as easily as any adult. She’s curious about a lot of things and she’s resourceful about that. I’m now torn between not wanting to keep my daughter away from her grandma and not wanting her to know the real truth. I’m saying the real truth because I wasn’t actually covering up the fact that her grandma was serving time, but she didn’t really know what kind of place it was and why her grandma’s in there. Considering her (now) critical mind, I’m not really keen on bringing her there for a visit. But if I showed up alone, then her grandma would ask why I didn’t bring her and I would have to either (a) lie or (b) tell her my concern and hurt her in the process. *sigh*
To make my mind even muddier, this is actually going to be our last Christmas in Jakarta before moving to Bali next year. So if I were to visit her with my daughter, it would be like a proper goodbye to her grandma. Still.. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I wish I was anywhere but here right now. And by ‘here’ I mean both in the city (so I wouldn’t have to make up excuses for not visiting, if I decided not to visit) and in my shoes (so I don’t have to worry about this).
So there, my nightmare before Christmas. Can you try and fix this, Jack?