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Christmas Cookie Redemption

Christmas cookie decorating was one of our favorite traditions since our first year of marriage. We both grew up decorating Christmas cookies with our families and it was an easy new tradition to agree on. Each year, we made dozens and dozens of cookies and shared them with friends or neighbors.

Greg's cookie decorating was legendary. He was a talented artist, but when it came to cookies, he wasn't going for beauty. He made them as tasty and entertaining as possible. Red and green M&Ms were a tasty addition that he specialized in covering cookies with. Angels were flipped upside down and turned into skulls and gingerbread men often found themselves in a scene running from some sort of cookie-beast. The cookies reflected Greg: funny, original, creative, and a little bit shocking at times.

When he ended up hospitalized for all of November in 2010 and time was running short for him to get a heart, I brought the cookie decorating to him. We sat in his hospital room and found comfort in the rhythms of a familiar tradition - even if there was less cheer to be had. It felt important to not miss a chance to do cookies together, especially since it could be our last.

In the years after his transplant, our traditions continued and our son was brought into the fun. He loved sitting on his daddy's lap and putting the M&Ms on the cookies and as he grew older, he came up with wonderful designs of his own.

So when we were trying to squeeze some sense of normalcy out of December in 2020, we planned a Christmas decorating party. Greg's brother's had quarantined and were temporarily lodging in town to help us out as we juggled doctor visits, parenting, and the stress of Greg's worsening health. A day spent decorating cookies seemed like exactly what we needed. Greg didn't have enough energy to sit at the kitchen table for long, but we planned to take turns sitting with him and chatting while others decorated. Greg was just looking forward to having the family together doing something we loved - even if he would be more of an observer.

But of course the decorating party wouldn't happen. I spent the morning of December 19 rolling, cutting, and baking dough but within a few hours the cookies were forgotten. In the wake of Greg's sudden death last night, the cookies undecorated sat in a bin on the kitchen counter. How long they sat there? I'm unsure. I couldn't bring myself to throw them away but none of us felt like decorating anymore. The cookies, which had always represented fun and connection, now reminded me of Greg's last day.

In the years since he died, my relationship with Christmas cookies has been complicated. In 2021 we decorated with friends and then extended family. Changing it up felt like the only way to get through. I can't recall how we handled the cookies last year: so much of the past few years is a blur.

This Christmas, my son was excited to decorate Christmas cookies and asked frequently when we would be able to. With busy weekends for the first half of the month, I put it off until we finally had an open window of time. I made the dough and we made a small amount to give away but needed more for us. The next evening I made a new batch of dough and stuck it in the fridge to chill overnight, promising my son a fun time of decorating together the next day. It wasn't until the morning that it struck me: we were completing the cookies on Dec. 19th - the 3 year anniversary of Greg's death.

Though it would've felt impossible to face in past years, this year it felt surprisingly right. As we played Christmas music, colored some cookies in Greg's favorite colors, and our son made a few ridiculous designs in honor of his dad, it felt like redemption. We decorated cookies alone and no one died. We decorated cookies on the 19th and smiled and laughed instead of cried.

Oh there's been plenty of tears this season, but not during cookie decorating. A tiny slice of Christmas that had been stollen from us was taken back, at least for now. This year, the cookies reminded us of Greg and we smiled. It feels like progress. It feels like redemption.


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