Christmas is different now…
I had this unshakable reputation when I was young of being OVERLY Christmassy. I made my friends nuts. I would begin playing carols in October, way before the stores when out would come my old Mahalia Jackson album and the one I bought from the TV one year – Time life Christmas or something. Baking would begin in November, because making everyone’s gifts was so exciting for me. I would make sweet breads shaped like candy canes, and French Canadian Tourtieres – about 60 of them, dozens and dozens of thumbprint and snowball cookies all wrapped in pretty paper. This was the best part of my life. I have always loved family gathering and the feeling of community at Christmas. Then, later on I had kids and Christmas only got better. Presents under the tree, scanning toy flyers for months ahead to see all the things I would like to get for them. Christmas eve, waking the kids at midnight to open a few present before sending their flushed happy sleepy faces back to bed to dream of the piles of stuff that Santa had just left for them. These were cozy warm beautiful loving times. The next day, food food food. Turkey for diner, and turkey sandwiches for breakfast boxing day morning.
Throughout all those years of kids and Christmas, my mom was there. We had an interesting relationship, because she was my birth mother and never got to raise me, she was very involved in my kids live’s (I called her my parenting partner…:)) and was (understatement) the best possible grandmother on earth. I never had very much money, but we would pool our resources and become an unbeatable team. Dollar stores rejoiced at our arrival, and we would make something wonderful out of not very much.
Christmas day we had down to an art. I would make the turkey and she would make the corn fritters. She would arrive late in the afternoon, and even if I didn’t ahve allot of money to fill the tree, inevitably she would arrive with armful of every present for every person, and my yearly tree decoration. We would put on music, do the potatoes together, everyone would arrive, and the eating, presents and fun would begin. We both loved creating traditions, and every year we really focused on passing those along to “our” kids. It never felt like “work” – and we always said after it was the best Christmas ever.
The past few years have not been so easy for Christmas with my mom. She was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, so the past two in particular have been “possibly the last” ones.
They were hard to prepare for, but it was somehow ok, because she was still on the other end of the phone. She would give me a list of things and I’d go alone. We figured it out.
But it wasn’t always easy. As the youngest of my family (and her only child) It was never my “role” to hold up the family traditions, like Christmas and such. That belonged to my parents (also her parents…long story) and my older siblings (or aunts and uncles depending on your side of things…) Sometimes, I would became completely overwhelmed. Two years ago, I was in such a twist I picked up the picture of my father and said quite loudly to it
“YOU deal with this! I don’t know how!”.
Next thing I knew, about 15 minutes later, I got a phone call from some members of his side of the family I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Their Christmas dinner had cancelled and they wondered if they could come down and say hi to everyone. Perfect. My mother’s cousins and people she grew up with all around her. It was a sad/happy miracle-like event.
Then last year we made as merry as we could, but the cancer had tired her and she had a very small window of being energetic enough to deal withal the revelry. We got her a beautiful eternity necklace with diamonds last year and she cried. Well – we all cried.
And now we are at “this year” – the year I dreaded. The year where she isn’t here anymore.
I’d like to tell you something hopeful – like some great Christmas miracle – a warm rush of love or awareness or a flicking candle or anything – but I got nothing. Christmas makes everything more – more joy, more food, more laughter, more music, more presents more family and friends. It also makes difficult stuff MORE – more grief, MORE loneliness, MORE tears, MORE exhaustion. Where did I put my Christmas spirit? It only seems now that it can make the things that are hard to do MORE hard. Like letting go, remaking family traditions, starting new, waking up in the morning. All MORE hard. But as my mother would say – THIS TOO shall pass.
She would have wanted me to write…
It’s one thing to write when you are feeling all puffed up with wisdom and emotional on your game. It’s totally another thing when you are feeling broken and terribly vulnerable. I knew I had reached a particularly epic low point when yesterday on the eve of Christmas eve and I had such bad writer’s block I couldn’t even write a Christmas card. This was pathetic enough to be funny.
My family and friends are distressed. They don’t know what to do with this sour version of Mrs. Claus.
People that now me less than they do like to give me advice or their opinion when the see my eyes so sad. Things like:
~”Think of the happy times” (I am…that’s why I’m so sad)
~ “She is always with you” (really…where??)
~ “You’re lucky to have had a mother like that. You should be grateful not sad…” (No idea how to respond to this one…I still can’t believe someone would say that)
So, advice to the grieving…get through it without causing any permanent damage to yourself or others. You can celebrate Christmas next year when the pain isn’t so fresh. Try to be nice to people, and if you need to freak out go to the bathroom and don’t bring the whole party down. Breath – Don’t forget to breath.
Yup that’s all I got.
I wish I could say something more deep – philosophical or insightful, but insight (inner vision) can only come with clarity, and right now I am standing in the middle of a quagmire.
But I’m not counting out the possibility of a Christmas miracle quite yet. I have seen it before and I know it can happen but frankly I feel a little like George Bailey in need of a Clarence worthy Christmas miracle right now.
I will pray that my mother will be around me so that I can feel it. I will hold her dear and keep the spirit that she helped me create all these years of beautiful Christmas memories with gratitude and love and a knowing that one day I will see her again. I will feed my fiends and family, we will drink homemade eggnog and play music and laugh.
But quietly in my heart I will say prayers for you – yes YOU. If you’re heart is hurting, if you are missing someone you love, if you are scared or feeling alone – my candle is lit for you.