Wednesday, December 27, 2023

How I Honored My Mom My First Holiday Without Her

It's over.  Thank God.  I know...I never thought I'd be one of those people saying that given my previous Christmas freak status but that status was heavily tied to the magic my Mom made sure I had growing up. Even though the reaction changed over the years from excited bliss and tearing to the tree as a tot to a sleepy eyed smile and a slow rise as a teen when she would come into my room Christmas morning, softly say my name and "Santa was here!" - she was Christmas.  It was opening gifts and eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  Playing with toys/games or later looking through what I got for my hope chest when I was 16 so that whenever I got married or decided to move out, I would have some things here and there like ice cube trays or little measuring cups.  It was listening to the 1965 Pickwick Living Voices Little Drummer Boy 8 track before dad left, being heartbroken when he took it with him without asking when he did leave and proudly showing it to her after swiping it back and had it transferred to cassette after staying with him in California for the last summer when I was 17.  It was making our tradition when I got married having her over Christmas Eve with a big appetizer spread, opening our gifts from each other listening to the same soundtrack, laughing, telling stories, playing board games including an hour of Tiddly Winks she had as a kid that I got her one year and then maybe falling asleep after a cookie coma by the light of the tree.

It was tempting to not put up anything.  To let this season pass because the pain was too much and it was.  She was everywhere I looked and new meaning to old familiar carols, movies and traditions I so loved, now hurt only amplifying her empty seat at our table.  Unfortunately, remembering that she started one month and without warning was gone to start the next one was a sobering reminder that the Mr and I are not promised next Christmas.  Not something you want to think about or acknowledge because that's for other poor families...until it isn't.   So I trudged forward.  It took a week to decorate the tree, a task that usually took an hour at most.  My decorations went up about 2-3 weeks later than normal and while I didn't want to, several of the items were a part of that hope chest started so long ago so I wanted to make sure they got displayed.  Some people urged me to decorate "you'll feel better!" "It'll keep her with you!"   Shut up.  I seem to remember when you were going through the same thing that you didn't want to decorate either.  (How quickly people forget when they're no longer in the thick of it.)   But I did it, and yes, it was somewhat nice to have everything up even though all I can see is how much effort it will be to pack it back up so it might be a Valentine's Day tree.  Or maybe one of those very fleeting bursts of energy will overtake me.  So decorating was one way I honored her.  I had an ornament made of her holding up a sign she crafted that says 'every time a bell rings, an angel gets it's wings.'  Yeah...stab me in the heart.  But there it was front and center in the middle of the tree.  My memorial ornaments usually go on the back because I want them honored but not the focus.  Now it's starting to feel like a memorial tree and I don't like that.  "Here are ornaments of your dead grandpa, grandma, dog and now mother... Merry Christmas!!"  😐  I may have to come up with another way to display those.  Christmas in July craft or something.

I have a 5x7 of the three of us on one of our last Christmas Eve's together before Covid.  I'm so glad she wanted to take those more formal pictures.  One of them of her and I alone will actually be on her headstone (if they ever get their act together) so I am very grateful we didn't have only candids.  I knew Christmas Eve was going to be the most difficult day.  This was the year we were getting back to that (last year they all had Covid) so it would be all I could think of.  In the meantime, I wanted to donate the amount I would've spent on her presents (or close to it) to a cause that spoke to me.  I wanted nothing to do with cancer causes because she never got to fight it and because of all of the other stuff that took that opportunity away, I forget she even had it.  She was plagued with lymphedema pretty much from the point she had me, on.  It eventually led to her being bone on bone in her knees with a lifetime of pain she had to live with.  One thing that helped her tremendously to live as normally as possible was a walker with a seat.  She had a cane also but if she wanted to go shopping, she was always worried about being able to find somewhere to sit if her knees became too painful.  A walker with a seat took that problem away.  I was looking at a local charity that serves many different programs and I saw a wish list for arthritis support.  I saw there was a walker being asked for so I bought two and had them sent to the charity directly.  They arrived last Thursday and I spoke with someone there and asked if there was anyone on a waiting list if there was any way they could get it for Christmas, that would be amazing though I know the likelihood was low.  Maybe they could at least start the new year with the gift of mobility and know that someone cares.  So often Christmas is focused solely on kids and I get that but those who are older or low income are unable to get medical equipment that would greatly improve their quality of life.  I will see what speaks to me over the coming year for next Christmas but I plan to donate to things that directly affected Mom and try to help others in similar situations.

I mentioned that we found a decent savings account rate of return and we've put anything from her in that account.  The interest made from it will be used for the Mr and I to buy gifts/stocking stuffers from her every year to open on Christmas Eve.  I think she would love that since she's unable to physically be here.  In fact I know she would because when she was having surgery in 99, she asked my grandma to keep getting the Mr and I socks and undies every Christmas from her if she died during surgery!   So the Mr and I designate on wish lists if there is something we specifically think Mom would buy and then just pick stuff we know she likely would've bought.  We have wrapping paper she used for us that should last us at least 5 Christmases given how small everything is these days.  We loaded them into the totes that she always used to load up the car and bring our gifts over.  

Seeing the paper...knowing it will eventually run out and having the chore of choosing what I think she would pick for us from Current catalog.  I just checked and they no longer have the ones she had for us but I see a few that I know she would pick so I will get those on clearance the year we run low for the following year.  It won't be the same though.  On a side note, there were a lot of those moments of using her things that was just...ugh.  Like using the last Sweet and Low, the last hot cocoa I had from the box at her place, knowing the magnesium foam the Mr bought for her when we had hope and I massaged on her feet will run out with as much as I've had to use it or the vitamin K cream to try to bring down all of the bruising the hospital inflicted on her.  Those little zings of pain from things most people don't think about but you now cherish.  Another piece of her gone and lost to time which is somehow moving on without her.

The 23rd was our 32nd dating anniversary and the day we wanted to celebrate with an afternoon tea in Mom's honor.  I got out her Country Roses Royal Albert china that I got her for her 50th and set a place for her.  It still cuts me like a knife knowing she won't be here to celebrate my 50th next year.  That was the year I'd finally allow a big party that we'd throw and I'd finally let her get me old lady gifts because I protested heavily on my 30th and 40th.  Now that won't happen.  

I put out her favorite tea and nibbles of grandma's butter balls and Piroulines and hope that in spirit she could partake.

Afterward when we finally got bored, I asked the Mr if we could open the gifts from my bestie and he agreed.  She went overboard as usual but it was still nice to have something to look forward to that day other than feeling this big pit in my ever expanding stomach. 

Earlier in the day on Christmas Eve, I video chatted with my friend in Florida and we opened our gifts to each other that we'd sent.  It was nice to have some happiness in a day I had not been looking forward to faking my way through.  Then it was time for the hardest part...our first Christmas Eve without Mom.  We went to the cemetery and that became a big therapy session about my dad, how she would've had an easier life if I hadn't come along at 17 and could've seen him for what he was and all kinds of fun topics that spilled out of my face hole but that's for another time.  On the way home, we drove around and looked at Christmas lights like Mom and I used to:

Thinking how the previous year we were sitting in a power outage in our 40 degree cabin in Vermont early that day while Mom's electricity had also mysteriously gone out from a breaker and she headed to her sibs for the night.  Part of me regrets going to Vermont knowing what I know now but I also know we wouldn't have gotten together with 7 people with Covid either.  I tearfully made her veggie pizza...a staple.  

We're all appetizers on Christmas Eve and that is one that we'd have leftovers and would use the savory goodness of the crescents and cream cheese ranch to cut through the sweets in our stockings on Christmas Day.  She loved the rumaki I would make which I now delegate to the Mr because even though it isn't really time consuming, it's not my favorite to put together.  We got our other usual suspects like cheese pretzel bites, BBQ weenies and jalapeno cheddar poppers because pooping is not on the priority list anymore so cheese it up.  

Next was to put on Kenny Rogers Christmas and get the present filled totes "from her."  I never felt more sick to my stomach in my life.  His version of My Favorite Things is the last song she heard on this Earth.  As I took her in for the last time, I told her to have sweet dreams thinking of all of her favorite things and she did because she passed with a smile on her face, which is rare and near impossible.  I knew it would be heart wrenching to hear again.  It was bittersweet knowing this is the only way to get gifts from her now and that the Mr would never be helping her bring those totes in from her trunk again.  I thought it would help but it just reinforced all of what was missing.  Her.  I wanted to love everything and I do but it just hurt and I bawled the whole time.  I don't know how this went from my most favorite day of the year since I was a kid to one that will never be the same again.  I'm not ready for that Christmas spirit I had when I was dopey and untouched by death's hand to take it away from me like a kid whose parents just confirmed there's no Santa.  We unwrapped our presents and thanked her.  We ate the cookies that always made her eyes light up.  Nope.  Not feelin' it.  It doesn't matter because whether you're feeling it or ready for that first, as Boris Karloff said 'it came! Somehow or other... it came just the same.'   

Christmas has been different for us the past few years anyway between Covid and being out of town some years so it feels just familiar enough with it being the two of us but it was supposed to work back to being together...this year.  Now everything is permeated with this heavy, palpable sadness.  This loss of knowing someone important, the heartbeat of our family, is gone.  No amount of attempting to sugar coat it or slap on a happy face will change that, ever.  There's a difference between not being together but knowing they are still out there celebrating and enjoying themselves and not being together knowing they're not.  You take a solace in knowing someone is still out there living, even if you don't see them all of the time.  It's a fact of what is.  Your foundation is intact.  When your foundation is leveled, and everything you built your existence on is gone, you're floating in space.  When memories and recipes are all you have left or a single stocking hanging in memoriam, you are left to wonder what the hell happened and what now?  

Christmas morning the Mr warmed up some take and bake mini cinnamon rolls he picked up from a vegan bakery a few days before and brought up coffee and we watched Home Alone 2 in bed.  

We started watching the original Grinch but he fell asleep so I put the Dahmer trial on to invade his dreams.  Before we knew it, my attempts at distracting from the elephant in the room were replaced with an old familiar feeling from the early days of grief which I've only been able to describe as wanting to peel off my skin and run away.  I bawled and said I felt like I was being pecked with the full range of every emotion you can ever have and had to lay there and take it.


By that time, the Mr had a pretty wicked headache so I told him to warm up the previous day's leftovers and we went downstairs to eat.  It was a balmy 60 degrees.  Thankfully I had the forethought to make our own white Christmas a few days before and then we finished watching the Grinch:

Then time to open our presents to each other.  I got some nice night shirts, an autumn shirt since I don't have any long sleeved ones, an old lady shower suction cup grabber since I now worry about getting out of the tub after a few toe scrapes, compression packing bags, the movie Stuber which makes me laugh and some stocking stuffers.  I was able to get through listening to the Pickwick Christmas music twice without issue.  When Kenny came back on, I didn't know if I could so I put Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on as the Mr played with his new goodies and raided his stocking.  I wanted so much to push through and fake joy for his sake.  I wanted to not let tears well up in my eyes wondering how we're now alone for Christmas forever.  I wanted to be able to let the memories of Christmas past be enough to sustain me and not let me ruin another day with tears...he's been through enough, can't he get ONE day...THIS day without all of the choking grief?  No.  Apparently not.  He tells me to stop apologizing but I feel bad for him but I feel bad for me too.  Do you know how hard it was to drive past all of those houses on Christmas Eve with tons of cars outside knowing what was going on inside?  To see laughing families around their table knowing I will never have that again in my life.  Given that is what I lived for in the past, it's like taking away the soul of who I am.  Yes, it got irritating some years and it wasn't perfect but that was due to other the the core of it, I was still glad to see everyone.  Now you have generations of kids who do not value the connection of family the way the Mr's and mine did so it just kind of stops with us which is just another thing to mourn.  Her sib didn't even wish me a Merry Christmas which also really kind of hurt.  I didn't want to say anything to them when I saw they hadn't said anything because the first thing I thought was 'they probably don't want to deal with grief girl on today of all days' whether that's what they thought or not.  But the fact is, they have a whole other side of the family to go to and we don't.  So we're kind of this flailing, pathetic twosome no one wants to claim anymore.  I lamented over how no one says Merry Christmas on social media anymore and sent one out at 4pm and within 7 minutes had five replies/likes.  So why does no one seem to share anymore?   People were clearly right there at the ready. I feel so disconnected and it's like everyone just stays on there creeping but no one does any sharing.  It makes me so sad.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and despite my defunct legs, I begged the Mr for us to get out of the house for a walk that my legs could potentially stand even though it was getting dark and starting to rain.  The crows of grief were pecking at me and I was just done.  Even though I was in immense pain the entire 2 1/2 laps, it was still nice to walk in the misty dark chatting about the hardest parts of the lesson you've learned about being a stupid human.  Lessons you wish you'd learned when the people who could've benefitted most were still here.  You know, cheery stuff!  Then we came home and we thought we should actually eat the ham we bought for the day though honestly, I probably could've skipped it.  So the Mr made sandwiches and the baby mac and cheese I bought and put on White Christmas, Mom's favorite Christmas movie.  We rounded out the night upstairs with stocking stuffers and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Then we both wrote letters to Mom to stick in her empty stocking- a crappy new tradition but it's our tradition anyway.  We wrote letters of love to her to be cremated with her as well as messages to be buried with her so this is kind of our thing.  I bawled as the Mr read them and we talked way later than I anticipated.  He had to work the next morning.  I was plagued with crappy sleep and then jolted awake at 5:40am by complete silence.  Hello power outage.  After talking for a few about how long we'd have before expensive Christmas ham expired, the Mr ran down and grabbed a solar power station I bought a few months ago when I had grand ideas that people would want to get together with us.  We figured since it had been down for 20 minutes it would be better to plug it right in so it wouldn't need to run as long to get the fridge back to temperature.  Despite saying it holds a charge for 6 months, it was down to 90% in two so there's a lesson in when we actually need to plug it back in for juice.  He got it plugged in within 25 minutes of going down and after an initial read time of 30 minutes when everything first started, it fluctuated and settled on about 2-4 hours to keep it at temperature.  Thankfully we only needed it for 45 minutes instead of the 4ish hours the power company said before restoration of power.  We were able to save everything and I've got a reminder for us to charge that every 2 months to keep it at 100%.  If we're able to catch an outage as soon as it happens and turn off the ice maker then we should be good for at least 4 hours which is about the average length of an outage around here.  It was good to give it a real world test but it would've been nice to not have it be at Christmas.

Christmas will never be the same again just as it wasn't when we mentally lost grandma and again when we physically lost her.  Now, losing Mom so soon after and so unexpectedly is a reality we weren't prepared for.  I don't want to honor her... I want her HERE.  I don't want to bake her favorite cookies if she's not here to share them with.  I don't want to cling to memories, I want to make new ones with her.  But it was also important that, even if the body and mind were not willing,  we still had a Christmas.  No matter how much you try to pull the covers over your head and pretend it's just another day, there are too many reminders it's not even if it's just a matter of, "oh yeah, everything is closed today and you know why."  I know she wouldn't have wanted me to ignore it, not her Christmas freak daughter who she regularly teased about it and winter in general.  It was the essence of who I was to her and most people.  I don't feel like that person anymore and it feels like I never will be again.  I know that isn't necessarily the case but as long as there is Christmas, I will honor her, no matter how painful.  No matter how many snotty nosed sobs set off by things both expected and unexpected.  Because she worked hard, budgeted hard and celebrated hard to always make them memorable for me even if they weren't over the top.  Family, food and memories is what it was all about for her and I will try my best to keep that in my heart, even if it's broken in a thousand pieces.

Some may think that was the hardest part but as her sib and I agree, the worst is this weekend.  It's when we leave her behind in this year and the new year starts.  The pain of that tears at us both and is yet another part of the process being forced on us.  It is hard to want to continue to write your story when the next chapter begins without a main character with that jaw dropping cliffhanger no one saw coming.  It makes you want to put the book down.  It feels wrong to leave them behind because even if this still happened less than six months ago, it now changes to "last year" in some people's minds.  Last year means an expectation about where you should be in your grief journey.  No, it's literally a different measure of time depending on who asks but for those of us grieving, time means something different to some of us.  Time stopped when their life ended even if life itself didn't stop for us.  There is still much to sort through; more "firsts" we must experience as we go into our inaugural year on the grief world tour.  So I pack my newly acquired baggage that is now part of my journey forward.  This steam trunk of a life lived with her memories and mine.  Old stories I must desperately try to remember so they are not lost with time.  Memories of a mom in her mid 20's newly divorced with an 8 year old and making less than 10k per year that was thrown into a new reality she too didn't ask for.  I know that's a little different though...all parties were still alive.  I will continue to talk to her everyday and try to forgive myself for not doing that when she was here.  I will always be grateful the universe put our souls together on this journey and try to be someone she can be proud of.  I will honor her,  share her stories and mine of her to keep her alive.  I owe her that and so much more.  

I love you Mom. ❤️

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  1. It sucks. No nice way of putting it. But I am glad that we did what we did to honor her even if it wasn't enough to ease the pain. I still feel so blessed to have had the years I got to have with her and will continue to cherish those memories.

    1. Thank you for allowing me to do those things for her and I know it was hard for you too. You love her and I will never be able to thank you for being her second child, her 'smart son.' She was as lucky to have you as you were to have her and she'd be the first to tell everyone that.

  2. You did a beautiful job of honoring her, even with your tears, because that's all part of your love for her. You have a memory for detail, so I have no doubt your memories with mom will not fade in the least. I'm so sorry for the indescribable pain this weekend was, and as you said, there's no getting around it. My heart goes out to you the the Mr. because there aren't enough words to say how very sorry I am that you have gone through this heart-wrenching loss, and how the holiday season just made that loss so much more palpable. xoxoxoxo

    1. Thank you. I need to write down those memories just because I don't trust my brain anymore. It was a horrible weekend...well and continues so. I know this Christmas is a crap show for both of us and I hope I can be there for you a fraction of how much you've been there for me.

  3. {Hugs} You did a great job honoring your mom! If it's not to much to ask, could you write your mom's veggie pizza recipe? It looks amazing, and if I'm honest, I've never had anything like it. I hope you and The Mr. have a good rest of the week.

    1. She basically used this recipe ( but for the spices we use 1 1/2 tsp of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing powder. She pretty much just used carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, diced ham and sharp cheddar but you can use whatever veggies you like. Add some peppers, green onions, radishes for color. All up to you to customize! I hope you love it if you make it!


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