Holiday Memories Well Past Due

Christmas was my Mom’s favorite holiday. She loved everything about it: the music, the decorating, the celebrations, giving gifts, seeing old friends. She would take such care finding just the right tree. She was so particular about the tree, in fact, there were a few years when I feared we might not have one. We’d go from lot to lot to lot, then back through them again. “They bring in new trees,” she’d say, “and the one I’m looking for might be there today.”

She took as much care and interest in decorating the tree. The ornaments had to be placed just so, and the tinsel. OMG the tinsel. It had to be placed just right or she’d come back through and re-do it. She had these beautiful white doves she’d place throughout the tree so they looked as if they’d just landed for a moment. And the most delicate, hand-painted ornaments.

The tree got the most attention, but the entire house would be decorated: garland along the fireplace mantle and the kitchen island, wreaths on the doors, poinsettias on the end tables, and Santa Claus was everywhere. There were cookies and fudge and divinity and candy canes. Stocking were hanged along the fireplace for all us kids and the pets too.

And, presents! The tree was always surrounded by presents: big boxes, small boxes, medium boxes. So many, many boxes. She really went over board on the presents.

It was a magical holiday, and my Mom’s enthusiasm was contagious. I, too, came to love Christmas–the decorating, tree hunting, gift-giving and celebration of friends and family.

But this Christmas was a very difficult one for me; the first since my Mom’s death last February.

It’s not like I’ve spent all that many holidays with my Mom recently. In fact, after heading off to grad school in the late 1980s, Christmas holidays at home were rare. Even though I couldn’t be there, I knew she was busy decorating, entertaining, and enjoying the season. We’d talk about our trees, the new decorations we’d purchased, our favorite Christmas songs, and our plans for celebrating with our friends. There we still the wonderful gifts and the love and thoughtfulness they represented, and the shared memories of previous Christmas holidays.

This year there were only the memories. And as happy and wonderful as those memories are, there was an emptiness that no amount of tradition or remembrance could fill.

I’d decided ignoring the holiday would be the best thing to do, but my husband convinced me that celebrating–decorating the tree and the house, driving around looking at Christmas lights, exchanging gifts, and celebrating with friends–would be the best way to honor my Mom. And he was right.

Although it took me weeks to drag the tree out of the box (even my Mom had moved to an artificial tree in the 1990s) and many more weeks to decorate, it was beautiful: covered in the ornaments I’d collected over the years and so many of her beautiful, hand painted ever so delicate ones. I cried as we hung the ornaments, and I cried each time I sat in front of the tree, but my tears were a mix of joy and sadness and one I needed to let fall.

It’s taken me close to a month to write this. I suppose that’s a testament to just how difficult this past holiday season has been. I’m hoping next year will be a little easier and that there will more tears of happy memories than of the sorrow of such a profound loss.

Thanks for all the wonderful Christmas memories Mom, and for all the magic a kid could ask for and more.

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