Last year at this time, I was facing my first Christmas without my mom. This year, as many mourn the loss of parents, spouses and others due to covid-19, the column I wrote then seems just as appropriate now.
Christmastime this year is different for a lot of us. We’ve lost family members, friends, pets and other loved ones, and so we have to face the holiday without them.
But we have our memories.
Of cold, snowy mornings spent sledding behind the church because it had the best hill that wasn’t the road, more than a few times smacking the fence at the bottom because we were having too much fun to remember to steer (but that scar on my jaw reminds me of it). Not that our homemade sleds were easy to steer, mind you, especially the ones made out of a broken swing-set slide.
Of snow ice cream if the snow was pristine and deep, and making sure to get the first bowl because once the boys started in, there’d be none left. It was the only yellow (and pale, at that) snow it was good to eat.
Of the Christmas program at the Dayton community building right next to our house, which drew most of the people in our tiny wide spot in the road in addition to the 4-H Club and Extension Homemakers who regularly met there. We’d sing, laugh, exchange gifts, and welcome Santa Claus, who always brought old-fashioned sacks of goodies (it always included an orange and Christmas candy, usually of the Brach’s variety). Santa and a Nativity play? Of course, and I was usually an angel … cast against type, obviously.
Of the trip to Nanny Kaylor’s house on Christmas Eve for a full Christmas experience, including dinner with all the trimmings, peanut brittle, those addictive ranch oyster crackers, and playing Santa’s helper to give presents to family members. Then there was the trek to Nanny and Grandpa Terrell’s house down the road on Christmas, usually for chili, beans and soup (Mitch called it “Nanny’s Good Soup”), and maybe a few small, handmade gifts. I long ago forgave Nanny for that clown doll which, darn it, disappeared in a tornado. The one she gave me before college, on the other hand … I think it was involved in some horrible accident.
Of the Christmas I had a temporary (luckily) case of wry neck, probably as a result of the multiple ear infections I had that fall, but I have pictures to remind me. At least the head tilt looked cute and somewhat intentional in the photos. The next Christmas, though, I got my first bike … with training wheels that lasted all of about two days. After the mean neighbors made fun of my training wheels when I was riding on the community building’s tennis/basketball court, I insisted they be taken off so I could be just like my brothers.
Mama knew better than to argue with her hardheaded daughter. She didn’t argue when I decided I wanted to read long before kindergarten, either. Quite often, books would be part of my Christmas gift, and still are, though she’s no longer the one giving them.
Missing Mama will be the hardest thing for me this Christmas. She was my best friend, biggest cheerleader, and the funniest and kindest person I’ve ever known. But she was also hardheaded, and could be stern, too, and would let you know how she felt if you happened to touch on one of her pet peeves, which included a few politicians. Like me, she missed two of the best public servants, Dale Bumpers and John Paul Hammerschmidt, and was saddened that we’ll probably never see their like again. Ask her about them, and she’d smile remembering them, their kindness, and their desire to help others.
That was what she had in common with them. She “adopted” older friends and neighbors, taking them food, visiting with them, and in at least one case, taking them shopping. I fondly remember going to the suit shop with her and Jess, the kind old man who lived next to the school. Though we didn’t have much, she put enough aside to make sure he had a suit to wear for an important event.
When a cluster of tornadoes hit our area, she gathered us and whatever supplies she could muster and we spent the day feeding neighbors and volunteers and helping people clean up what was left of their homes.
She also had a very special relationship with my dearly departed Luke, he of the fluffy cat pants. She had told me once that she had always wanted a green-eyed grandchild (her eyes were green), but she never got it. Until Luke. Sure, he was a cat, but he had beautiful green eyes that were always full of nothing but love when he saw his grandma. He’d nap with her, cuddle, and even let her hold him while his mom attempted to take pictures of him in a Santa hat (those didn’t turn out so well). When Luke died, she was as heartbroken as I was, but I know that now the two of them are together again, probably shaking their heads at me and laughing.
The lessons Mama taught will always be with me. She will, too, though not in the way I would prefer. She, my dad, and all my grandparents are gone now, but their legacies live on.
That’s a pretty good Christmas gift if you think about it.
I know I’m far from the only person dealing with grief at this time of year. The reason we had our Christmas on Christmas Eve at Nanny Kaylor’s house was because my dad’s dad, who I never knew, died on Christmas Eve. Now, we do without Mama.
As I was finishing this column, one of my favorite bloggers, John Pavlovitz, posted a piece about grief during the holidays, and I feel compelled to quote him here.
“When you lose someone you love,” Pavlovitz writes, “you forever realize the singular, irreplaceable gift that time with them was—because it becomes the only thing you really want anymore: just one more explosive embrace as the front door swings open, one more tearful eruption of laughter recalling the story you heard them tell a hundred times before, one more smell of their heads as they lay nestled in the crook of your arm, one more afternoon with the familiar music of their voices coming through the wall beside you, one last phone call to hear them share life-changing news or the mundane events of a day, just a few more seconds of ordinary life—with them still here.”
But, he cautions, you must embrace who is here and treasure those moments. “Mourn the absences and celebrate their presence in the present. No, you can’t have the gift you most want right now—but you have today. Be present.”
I couldn’t say it any better. Merry Christmas!