the trappings of December

Not even 36 hours into December, and it already feels like a long month.

Last year around the first of December, my mother asked me if I thought she’d live to see Christmas.  I told her I didn’t know, with a not-so-hopeful tone to my voice. Her shoulders fell, and she turned her gaze downward- she mostly communicated with her body language; her gestures  betrayed the feelings she so rarely voiced. I quickly added that I hoped so and gave a weak smile, but it was too late.

I wonder why I needed to be so brutally honest in that moment.  My mother loved Christmas.  The holiday music, the tacky sweaters (she owned at least 6), the family gatherings.  I wish in that moment I had held her hand, and looked into her eyes and said something upbeat, like “why not?” or “Christmas with you would be wonderful!” She would have done something like that for me.

She didn’t live to see Christmas, but she almost made it; she died on the 13th, and she got to enjoy part of the holiday season. Christmas of 2011 was nothing like Christmas Past, but her cousin artfully decorated the inside of the house, and we strung multicolored Christmas lights along the roof that cheerfully twinkled in the long, dark nights.  I found CD after CD of Christmas music, and played the familiar tunes softly for my mother as she was unconscious in her bed.  The machinery of thoughtful friends and community members kept us fueled with sugar.

This year, the holidays have returned to semblance of the norm. I participate in the holiday parties,the home decorating, the gift exchanges. I unfurled dusty decorations that haven’t seen the light of day in two years; my husband hung multi-colored orbs from our mesquite tree that sparkle in the Arizona sunshine.

Holiday rituals bring me joy, but I feel her absence so acutely.  The songs that ushered her out of this life fill my ears and I long for that which has slipped away on an invisible current.

I will always remember her padding in the kitchen, making cider or cooking up a beef dinner for her relatives wearing her latest Christmas sweater acquisition, jingle-bell earrings flashing under the fluorescent light.  She would flash me a big smile and say without words that yes, this is the best stuff of life.

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008

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16 thoughts on “the trappings of December

  1. Loni Found Herself

    I find myself, some 15+ years later, feeling like that when the first cold snap of Autumn occurs. I lost my mom in late September in Indiana. The skies were gray and cloudy, the leaves were blown off the trees. For years I’ve simply felt a sense of “blue” around that time of year, often without even knowing it.

    Now that I live in L.A., of course, those cold snaps don’t happen in September, they happen right around mid-November, if they happen at all. This year September rolled around and, though I of course knew that it was the anniversary of her death, I didn’t feel that overwhelming sadness bearing down on me. I thought perhaps I’d turned a corner, and that, too, brought its own feelings of guilt.

    So when I started feeling intensely sad and helpless a few weeks ago, I was puzzled. I talked to my therapist about it, and during the course of that conversation it dawned on me. More so than a date on a calendar, I feel my mother’s death in the air.

    I relate so much to you writing about the “songs that ushered her out of this life.” For me it isn’t songs, but a colder breeze.

    You and your mother are gorgeous.

    Reply
    1. Beth

      Katie I know from what you speak. I am a high school classmate of your mom. I lost my own mother on December 19, 2001. The holidays have never been the same but I have tried to make new memories. Your mention of the “songs that ushered her out of this life” struck a chord with me. My mom was all about Christmas and I miss her terribly every year. Thank you for writing so beautifully.

      Reply
  2. Chatter Master

    What a great picture of you and your mom.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I do feel, from reading you, that I suspect you might feel lots of your mom this season. Perhaps she will slip back to you on that invisible musical current that you so thoughtfully played for her.

    Reply
  3. Kathy

    Christmas 2007 was the last Christmas I celebrated with my mom. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early December 2007. My dad had professional family Christmas pictures taken at their house that year. The first time in I don’t know how long. This collage of Christmas pictures hangs in our bedroom. I know on Christmas day 2007 we were all thinking the same thing – is this my mom’s last Christmas. This holiday has never been the same for me since my mom died. She made Christmas special for me. The first year was a let down. I smiled through tears that I tried to hide so my kids would have a nice Christmas. My focus now is to make Christmas as special for my kids as my mom did me. I still miss her, epecially on Christmas day. Hugs.

    Reply
  4. Stephanie

    I think your mom needed you to be honest in that moment: it was way too late to try to protect her, and there had to be a reason she asked. And don’t second-guess what you might have said. . .with perfect reaction time and perfect sleep and without a brain full of grief and worry. I love your writing: it’s so honest and clear and such an ode to your mom and a great way to keep her alive for you and for people who didn’t even know her. A life, with all its whimsy, worth knowing about. I am so glad you can feel some joy in the season.

    Reply
    1. bornbyariver Post author

      And thank YOU! For writing, for reading for it all.

      If Mom was anything it was likeable… Everyone was drawn to her light, bright spirit. Glad it shines through to those that didn’t meet her.

      Reply
  5. marwil

    This is so beautiful and heartbreaking. Your love for your mom really shine through. I’m so sorry she can’t be with you. It sounds like you did the most you could during her last days with you. That place is so painful, precious and confusing. I have been there too.

    Reply
  6. Heart To Harp

    It is hard to consider, but eventually these memories of Christmas past, when your mom was well, will bring remembered joys without the sadness that accompanies the memories now. You a so very brave to say yes to all the feelings that knock on the door to your heart, and let them in.

    Reply

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