A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Trader Joe’s doing the weekly shop. My baby girl was sleepily bouncing along in her Baby Bjorn as I strolled the aisles. It was just after Thanksgiving and about two weeks before Christmas. Holiday items were out for sale and I was just beginning to think about what I needed to buy for holiday meals and what we generally liked to have around the house this time of year. Then, as I was walking by the frozen foods, I found myself having to take several deep breaths to calm an overwhelming urge to sob. It worked a little bit, I was still crying but not in any excessively noticeable way. And there I was, shopping in Trader Joe’s crying by frozen fruit and desserts because I missed my mom.
The holiday season can be difficult for many reasons when you’ve lost someone special. The first Christmas season was the worst for me. This year has been the second worst season in four and a half years. The in between was unremarkable; I got used to my mother not being here for Christmas. That doesn’t mean that I liked her absence or didn’t care that she wasn’t around; I had grown accustomed to not buying gifts for her and to not hearing her laugh on Christmas Eve. The shock had worn off and the sadness had settled in.
This year is completely different though. I have a new daughter this year. She would have been my mother’s first and only grandchild.
I think of what my mom would have done to make this Christmas special for our little girl. She would have bought her some adorable outfits and maybe even a little piece of jewelry she could have as she grew up (like a locket). She would have been the one to buy her a “first Christmas” ornament for our tree. She would have cherished passing on our family traditions to the wee one. She would have introduced her to Handel’s Messiah, which we played every year while trimming the tree. She would have LOVED the adorable Christmas photo we had taken, and would have proudly display it in her home.
My mother would have been overjoyed with this little wiggly bundle of love that we have, and she would have gone all out in her way to make it the start of some spectacular Christmases for her granddaughter. It saddens me that my little girl will never know what she has missed out on.
This is another moment of synchronicity my mother and I share. I never knew her mother. I have found myself wondering whether my mother felt this way at my first Christmas. Was it bittersweet for her as well, having this new little being to introduce to family traditions while knowing that one major part of those traditions wasn’t there?
I loved the traditions my parents started with me, and I am doing my best to continue those and to start some new ones with our little love. We’re celebrating Wigilia (the Polish Christmas Eve vigil) although with Indian food, and our present circle. It will be a smaller circle this year, since we decided not to travel during cold and flu season with our almost-three month old. There will just be four of us: my dad, my husband, me, and little Anya. The fifth person will be present both in joyful reflection and in sorrowful absence.
My experience this holiday season is a reminder that grief is never “gotten over,” and it illustrates the complexity of the grief tango (moving forward and back in a rhythmic dance of partnership). Some years I have led grief, this year grief leads me. New life experiences requires Grief the Teacher, who shows us a new level of our relationship with our lost loved one and gives us more homework to do, more to reflect on, more to process, more to cherish, and more to embrace with the largeness of love.
I know that my mother would have loved this Christmas. I want her here more than ever this year. And so grief goes.