Our front door even says, Welcome Christmas!
It's TRUE! It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which for me is a Christmas Miracle in itself. I have to admit to being quite a Grinch over the past few years. What I have not allowed myself to write or speak aloud until now is this:
My mother spent 8 years dying of Breast Cancer. Every Christmas had the underlying, unmentioned feeling that it could be mom's last one. She spent her last 4 Christmases either undergoing or finishing treatments. We nick named it the annual Christmas Chemo like it was a seasonal holiday treat like egg nog. And then she died just before Christmas December 12, 2000. Yup. That was the worst Christmas ever. I spent the whole day in bed in a rental house in Nags Head NC with Steve's family. I got up to get very drunk then I went back to bed. Sad really, but, it was my way of coping. On Boxing Day I woke up and carried on.
Each Christmas has passed since then without it's luster. I believe it was because we didn't have my mother's home cooked meals, our Christmas morning rituals sucked because we were missing our matriarch. We tried to hold fast to them and replicate them. On Christmas morning I didn't look across the room to see my mother in her burgundy velour housecoat, her eyes filled with anticipation as we opened our gifts from her. There was just awkward silence and then my voice making stupid jokes to sever the tension. We tell a few "remember when mom" stories then look at the floor, choke back tears and leave the room.
The wrapped gifts under our tree came from; Santa, the elves, Mrs. Clause, the birds in the back yard feeder and even from the dog. Her tourtieres were always made with fresh ingredients, she made her crusts cutting out holly leaves and berries to decorate the tops, she woke early to make her stuffing from scratch, we would always have to beg her to stop or hurry up so we could open our gifts. Our stockings were filled with the best things in them and even into adulthood included a toy of some sort. Crumbs were left on window sills and carrots were half eaten in the snow. As kids we never clued in that it was always mom or dad who discovered and brought this wondrous Santa evidence to our attention. These are the things I think of every year. These Christmas memories are my mother.
A girl is never ready to lose her mother no matter how old we are. I found out my mother was sick when I turned 20, she died a month before my 28th birthday. Those are the formative years. When a girl discovers her mother is a person, a woman, not just a mother. It's in that time I wanted to know about what my mother thought, dreamed of and wanted for herself and for my sister and I. I know some of these answers. They are pieced together by what my dad, and my aunts have shared, they help fill the hole that mom's passing has left. But, they aren't her words.
I have been angry that my mother never wrote a letter to my sister and I telling us her thoughts. She never pulled out her Christmas cookie recipes to make sure we had them, she never went wedding dress shopping with us just to make sure she saw us in a dress. Other mother's have done this with their daughters when they new they were terminal. Not ours. I can only surmise that she was optimistic to the end that she would beat her cancer and not have to leave us. I hang onto the fragments of my memories of her. I pause when I come across her hand writing on a birthday card tucked away in her makeup case in my drawer. It used to smell of her but has long since faded away.
This is the first Christmas I feel Christmassy. It's because of my little girl. It's because I can now share in the delight my mother and father must have shared in as they readied our house for the arrival of old Saint Nick. It's in every cookie I bake, ever gift I wrap and every little bit of decor I place around the house. It's in Finley's face every time I look at her toothy smile shining up at me from her favorite spot at my feet. Christmas is back! It's here in my house as I take from my mother's ideas and replicate them in a way we do when we take on customs making them our own.
Cookies I baked. Not mom's but Joy's (of cooking)
A beautiful glass ornament from a new and dear friend hangs in the kitchen.
Finley opens a gift from her Grampy (and his new finace') Grammy.
And so this Christmas marks a new chapter. I'm having my Christmas cry while I write this post. Saying goodbye to the last decade of sorrow and hello to new beginnings. Wondrous new beginnings. As evidence by the signs of Christmas all around my house. The fact that I have allowed myself to write this means only one thing. I am finally healing. I am letting mom go and keeping only the very best parts of our story together. Merry Christmas Mom and thank you.