December 5, 2013

But I Miss My Mom.

Photo: by MattGrommes on Flickr

I don’t know if I want to do Christmas completely differently so that it will hurt less, or if I want to do Christmas the same way because it will hurt less.

I did really well through Thanksgiving. I was busy, the kind of busy where you fall into bed and crash into oblivion and then wake up and hit the ground running.

After Thanksgiving, I looked around and saw that it was time to “do” Christmas. So I started the gift buying, and the taking down of the autumn decorations, ready to put away all of the rust, gold and brown things, the pumpkin candle holders and the homemade oak leaf window clings.

And this morning, I fell apart. I was just sitting here minding my own business, making a grocery list. I was playing Christmas music on Spotify, and there’s a poinsettia sitting on the table in front of me—I kind of hate poinsettias, but it was a gift.

I fell apart because even though last year was really the first Christmas without my mother, I spent last Christmas taking care of my father who had cancer. I spent Christmas Eve at the hospital, and most of Christmas day, listening to beeping meters and code calls and eating out of vending machines. Under the circumstances no one really expected me to get a tree, decorate the house or make cookies.

Last year just…wasn’t Christmas. It was a season outside of space and time, leaving this to be the emotional, if not chronological “first.”

My mother was the most Christmas loving Jew who ever lived. She had always wanted a stocking, and a tree. She was heartbroken when she was picked to be Mary in the fifth grade school pageant  and her mother had to go to Chestnut Avenue Elementary School to explain that a Jewish girl could not appropriately portray the mother of Jesus with all of those angels and wise men and songs about “holy nights” and “Christ the King.”

So when she had her own house and her own family, she became the Christmas Maven. Everything about her Christmas was warm and beautiful and classy, even in the early years when there wasn’t a lot of money. She loved Christmas music, and we had recordings of carols played on music boxes, cello choirs, The Vienna Boys’ Choir, lutes and hammer dulcimers. She collected ornaments and Santas and snowmen, and bought real, fragrant trees, wreaths and garlands. She liked to have just one tree, way in the back yard decorated with a single strand of colored lights so that she could see it out the kitchen window, but it wasn’t vulgar.

Every year the tree went up on my mother’s birthday (December 14th) and came down on 12th Night. There was a big tree-trimming party with caroling around the piano, and our friend Conni’s dramatic rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Every year we did something for people in the community who needed our help, often families in the school district where my mother taught.

On Christmas Eve we could open one gift, and on Christmas morning there was a designated present deliverer. We had the day to enjoy our gifts, and then we tidied the house, dressed up and had Christmas dinner, always with friends, always loud, delicious, a festive blur of candlelight, Christmas crackers, Yorkshire pudding and champagne for everyone.

The end of it all began years ago. First the big  parties were too much, then I started to put up the tree and decorate the house for her, and by her last Christmas it was mostly just too much. She was awfully, awfully tired by then, but she still wanted her backyard tree lit, and her Christmas village set up. We had just a little family dinner, and she was worn out before the pie.

The truth is that even if you know everything changes, and that suffering comes from hanging on to the past, it still breaks your heart.

It’s breaking my heart right now.

And for now, for this day, maybe for this week, maybe all month I need to set my own, new course for Christmas without her.

I had to turn the carols off, and although I have the bulging CD portfolio that holds her collection, I may not be ready for that kind of direct hit to the emotions.  I don’t even know if I can look at the ornaments we put up every year, my macaroni and glitter disasters from kindergarten and the elegant wax angels that couldn’t be hung too close to the lights.

I don’t know if I want to do Christmas completely differently so that it will hurt less, or if I want to do Christmas the same way because it will hurt less.

(Mostly I think nothing is going to make it hurt less).

It’s going to happen, this Christmas thing, it’s going to happen all around me no matter what I do. I feel guilty if I deprive my husband and son of a festive holiday because of my own ambivalence, but I become mutinous and teary-eyed when we talk about getting a tree, or putting up lights.

My father always complained about all of my mother’s over-the-top Christmas activity, although he always made sure that her tree was watered, her village was set up and her silver was polished.

He told me yesterday that he thinks he’d like to have a tree this year. Just a little one.

Maybe that’s how we start over without her. Maybe we do the things that feel right, skip the things that are too much, and step away from all things Christmas when we can’t bear it.

Maybe, someday, we will feel less heartbroken, less deprived of her presence and more privileged to have had such a very loving and energetic Christmas Maven to make such powerful memories. Because I do know how lucky I am.

But this year if it’s okay, I’m mostly just going to miss my mom.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise



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