When Christmas isn’t Christmas Anymore… Responding to Grief and Loss
I remember the first Christmas without my mom. I was 30 years old, a mother of one with another on the way, and the solo girl amongst a sea of men in my core family.
I remember wanting to skip the holidays that year; Wanting to wish them away, wanting them to cease to exist. Then, December 1st came and everything changed. A lifetime of Christmas overload was pushed to the forefront, as I painstakingly remembered the pure glee my mom exhibited each year as she strung the tinsel. She would ooh and aaah over each ornament, despite the fact that most were cheaply made and often a DIY craft from a child. She would proudly go over the history of each ornament, and the smile on her face in doing so was one of genuine love and joy. She would shop 12 months out of the year, ensuring that her gifts were well thought out and ridiculously personal. She looked for bargains, picked out gifts that were personal and individualized, and nothing made her more excited than wrapping her love for others.
Instead of skipping the holidays, I made it my mission to duplicate mom’s Christmas craft. Countless hours were spent planning, hundreds of dollars were spent buying… And then the day came. Our family gathered at my parents’ house. The house they built together as an engaged couple right out of high school. They one where they moved in together when they were newlyweds. The one and only home that they would bring babies home to, throw birthday parties at, host kids’ graduation parties and wedding showers, and spoil grandchildren… The house that they planned to spend forever in, but instead used it as a grieving hub after my mom’s untimely and sudden death. That house. The house that always felt like “home,” but now had a strong air of emptiness.
With my mom’s Christmas gusto, a deep motivation to duplicate things EXACLY as she had done in prior years, and a sinking feeling that no matter what I did, nothing could ever be the same, we braced ourselves for the first Christmas without the foundation of our family.
There were laughs, there were tears, there was a camaraderie that gave spirit to good effort by each of us, despite the fact that we all knew it would end in crippling defeat. I vividly remember at one point, while sitting amongst family that I had grown up with, feeling like I was surrounded by strangers. I was in a living room with piles of wrapping paper strewn on the carpet, warm food in the oven, laughter bouncing off the walls… And all I wanted to do was cry. And scream. How were we doing this?? WHY were we doing this?? We CAN’T do this without mom.
Without mom, there was nothing to say to one another. Without mom, the wrapped presents were just purchased items from the store, lacking in personalization and love. Without mom, the mashed potatoes were lumpy. Without mom, there was no direction amongst a flock of devastated souls. Without mom, there was no Christmas spirit. It was gone. Forever.
In the months that followed, I reflected that a new plan must be put into place. Christmas would never again be the same, and yearning for that would leave me disappointed time and time again. How can a holiday so close to my heart be replaced with gloom and doom? It can’t. That can’t be her legacy. I won’t allow it.
We refocused, went a different direction, and made a point to NOT celebrate like it had always been. We made changes, we made it un-mom. We settled on an annual Ugly Sweater Contest, for surely making spectacles of ourselves and spreading laughter at the expense of our family would lighten the mood. Sometimes we have the traditional ham and potatoes, other times we have mom’s lasagna. I believe one year we even had pizza. Mom’s homemade pizza. The kind we used to eat on Sunday nights on TV trays in the living room, while watching the ABC Family movie. We toggle back and forth between new traditions and old, but everything we do is with her in mind.
Christmas will never again be the same, but her legacy is one of love, laughter, and family. And as it turns out, the Christmas spirit is not gone forever, as I feared. The Christmas Spirit lives on, in each of us, because a part of her is within us.