2020 has been messy. That’s being kind. Christmas is right around the corner and the messiness continues as we move to celebrate in ways that deviate from years past. Traditions have been paused for a year and we’ve had to become creative about how we celebrate at a distance.
Last year, we didn’t see family. We had an almost-three month old and didn’t want to make the thirteen hour drive or fly with her before she had more vaccinations. We spent last Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my father at his assisted living residence. We briefly skyped my family in Virginia and had a call with my in-laws in Pennsylvania.
Last Christmas was hard. It was my first Christmas with my child, my fourth without my mother. I was so emotional about my mother not being there on such a special occasion that I cried in grocery stores and burst out in tears at my post-yoga mother’s group. It was rough.
This year, I haven’t had any emotional ambushes to speak of. I have mostly been distracted with buying gifts early, sending packages, and figuring out our holiday meals. Missing my mother hasn’t off of my emotional radar, though. I always think of what she would buy my daughter. Now that my daughter is walking, I think of how they would interact together (not just on Christmas). I think of them enjoying the ornaments on the tree together and them sharing laughs. I’m full of those bittersweet thoughts this year. I’ve got Santa presents that my daughter will actually appreciate this year and I think a lot about my childhood Christmases.
Two weekends ago, I was in a home goods store looking for non-skid rug backing. I found it and, seeing how long the social distancing check-out line was, decided to wander and give the line time to shrink. I bobbed and weaved around the store, doing my best to avoid being in close proximity to other shoppers. At one point, I turned around and came face-to-face with a shelf full of Christmas ornaments made in Poland. They were the very ones my mother bought me. (My mother was Polish and our shared heritage was important to us.) For the last several years of her life, I received a Polish ornament from “Santa” on Christmas Day. She had given me ornaments or asked me to select an ornament for myself every year since I can remember. She discovered these Polish ornaments and augmented our traditional ornament exchange to include them every year.
I teared up a bit at the sight, more from gratitude than sadness. Here was a tradition I could begin with my daughter. I had missed the ornaments very much, and buying them for myself made me sad, so I didn’t do it. Having someone else to buy them for now, and a tradition to pass down, fills me with bittersweet warmth. I can’t help but think that my mom intervenes in my life when necessary and these ornaments were her way this year. I thought I might have escaped the heart-tugs this year, but I was wrong. She is never going to be gone. And I will probably never escape reminders of her or our relationship. My daughter will also now inherit the generosity of our mother-daughter tradition. Perhaps this is my mother’s way of establishing her own afterlife connection with my girl.
The enormity of my holiday grief may only be displaced this year because my thoughts are more often with my father who will celebrate alone this year for the first time in his life. His assisted living residence suspended inside visits at the beginning of flu season. We can visit outdoors if we choose, but temperatures are below freezing right now. I dropped off gifts, and will bring something more in a couple of days, but the things matter less than the company…especially at this time of year.
My dad and I video chat daily, and we’ll do the same thing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year. I know he will make it through the days but I worry that the lack of company will be heavy on him. Christmas was our family’s favorite holiday. Last year was special but I know he wished my mother was around for their granddaughter’s first Christmas. This year is sad in an entirely other way. I know my dad talks with her, and I hope she will respond with some other-worldly intervention for him as she did for me.
So this is Christmas 2020. This is my grief five Christmases in. I’m surprised at the dullness of it this year, but this year has been off in so many ways to begin with. I guess I will have to wait and see what holiday grief has in store next year.
Have as pleasant a holiday as you are able. Listen to your grief and give it a place at your holiday table. Make room for your holiday memories too. Be kind to yourself and don’t force holiday happiness if it isn’t there. Stay safe.