I just looked at my husband and said, “I think my Christmas Spirit is back.” Having grown up with beautifully memorable Christmases, this was a happy revelation for me. The Spirit left the year my Mom passed away and has been slowly making its return.
The holiday season used to begin in October when the choirs I was involved in would begin rehearsing Christmas songs for the concert in December. By the time Christmas actually arrived, my house, heart, and voice were full of the goodness of the season.
Growing up, my Mother was Christmas. Single handedly, she created a happy, loving season for all of us. She started baking in November, hand wrote cards with care, and spent months making crafts. My Mother was the one inviting people over for big feasts and hosting Christmas carol sing-alongs—actually, at least two of them: a travelling one and one around the piano in our living room. Living in -40 degree weather, the travelling one was no easy feat! We could hear our feet loudly crunching on the snow while our liquid, cold breath grabbed our eyelashes, freezing them shut.
My Mom and I were both singers so most of the days Christmas Carols would be playing in the background as we went about our business, harmonizing from wherever we were in the house. When the Hallelujah Chorus came on (we'd performed this together on-stage) we would find each other, stand arm in arm and pretend there was an audience in front of us. I can hear her voice when I close my eyes.
Even while my Mom was in leukemia treatment for eight years (three years longer than the doctors expected), she pushed her low energy level to create the most special Christmases she could.
On one beautiful spring day, my Mother went to be with the angels. And for me, so did Christmas. The first year, we went through the motions with a tree, dinner, and some gifts in my house, but the bubble that had me on the verge of tears at any moment was too strong to avoid. I didn’t dare sing a Carol, never-mind retrieve the Caroling piano book my Mom gave me. I turned the radio off and stayed away from the malls. Barely making it through that Christmas, I wasn’t sure I could sing again.
The next Christmas came along with the birth of my first child. My intention was to create a special Christmas mostly for him, but realizing he wouldn’t remember it, I bailed again, taking that one off. I tried singing Carols but each time I started, the lump in my throat would give way before any sounds could.
As the next two years progressed, and my second son arrived, I could feel baby-step improvements in my Christmas Spirit. One year I opened up the Caroling book and actually got through a piece, but should have stopped there. Silent Night completely wrecked me, my Mother’s harmonies filling my ears with joy, but my heart with grief.
The year after that when my sons were one- and three-years-old, I made myself go to hear Handel’s Messiah, wads of Kleenex in hand for the Hallelujah Chorus. I’d had enough, I wanted to push through the sadness and enjoy this season again. Tears streaming, sniffing uncontrollably, I got through the Chorus, silently reminding myself that I wouldn’t die from sadness.
That seemed to be the breaking point. Although I still took the tree and decorations down first thing on Boxing Day, I definitely cried much less that year. I cried even less the following year, and well, except for this moment while writing today, have barely shed a tear this season. I feel excited to sing, put up a tree that will make it until New Year’s Day and to spend time with family and friends.
I’m not going to try re-creating my Mother’s Christmases. I’d rather write than craft, use lights than decorations, and go to the bakery than bake. I’m not sure I could wrangle up a crew of Carolers—although I may actually try this year. I realize that I need to make the Christmas I want for my little family and let go of the ones I grew up with.
I have learned that it’s okay for Christmas to be painful, to skip it, and to give myself slack for hating it. Eventually, the pain and anger did move, but only after I felt it in every one of my bones first. So maybe time does heal, and maybe love will find its way back no matter how hard we try to block it.
Are you experiencing grief and loss this Christmas? I'd like to hear what is helping you get through the season. Please leave a comment below or over on my Facebook page.