My mom loved Christmas! She would hoard little treasures from yard sales and flea markets all year long and store them in a trunk to give to us at Christmas. Presents had to be distributed one at a time and in a certain order so we could all watch the recipient open and share their joy. 😉 In the early seventies she excitedly drug home her most exciting find and we assembled it in the living room: a garish silver artificial tree made of some sort of aluminum strips. Once the lights and decorations were on she added the final finishing touch by pouring white Styrofoam ‘peanuts’ over the top to simulate snow. At nine I was completely enchanted! Her enthusiastic giving continued even when she was seventy-nine.
Mom became ill two days before Christmas last year and I transferred her to Hospice the day after Christmas. We stayed with her until she crossed over on January 7th. I’m sure we celebrated Christmas after that but I don’t recall it. And I know I must have taken the tree and decorations down and put her unopened presents away but I have no clear memory. So this year I wasn’t sure I wanted to celebrate Christmas. Did I want to put up the tree she and I found for five dollars at a thrift shop and we’ve used and loved the past seven years? We even considered traveling for the holidays. But I knew I wanted to be with Brin wherever we were and I knew Mom would not want me to give up Christmas. I gave the tree away to a neighborhood family and wished them many happy memories around it.
Our family tradition since Brin was a toddler was to get a ‘free’ live tree on Christmas Eve bring it home and decorate it, have dinner, and then open presents. Oh about the ‘free’ tree—you know those empty lots near shopping centers that pop up after November strung with white light bulbs and cut live trees lined up along a mesh fence? Well this free tree ritual began literally because in those days we could not afford to buy a tree! My parents and sister and brother-in-loveand even our neighbors always joined us. We practiced this tradition for over a decade into Brin’s teens and well after I moved on from working Christmas Day at a movie theatre and could afford to buy a tree! And over the years most of those loved ones for one reason or another join us now only in Spirit.
This year we reinstated the tradition which Brin explained to her boyfriend and we learned she never realized it started because we were broke—we all found this quite hilarious! Brin cooked for us Christmas Eve at our house and Jeff and I went out to look for a tree. Our little town used to have them everywhere but this year we couldn’t locate even one. Sigh. Soooo, Brin’s three foot tall purple pre-lit artificial tree would have to grow on me.
I set it up on a table in the living room window and dug out the Christmas decorations brought in from the shed but I could only find the bulbs mom and Jeff and I had painted together last year. Oh it was a brilliant idea but a bigger project than I had anticipated as it was too challenging for her physically. But we muddled through and had a great time. We gave each of her caretakers and family and friends a special bulb to remember us and this Christmas. They actually looked perfect on this little purple tree and I was happy.
But I couldn’t find the box with all of our family decorations, yet the box of lights were there. I was disheartened. I had no memory of packing them so I wasn’t really sure what I’d done with them. We rechecked the shed—not there. I ran through several unhappy scenarios and decided to let it go for then (which was a HUGE stretch for me) and not deal with it over the holiday. The tree was glittering and was a perfect memory of mom—she would have been delighted with it just the way it was.
I really ‘got’ this year that Christmas, or whatever winter holiday you may celebrate, is about love. And demonstrating that love with others. We didn’t exchange presents, we had a little tree, Brin cooked a scrumptious meal, and we had each other. The people in the world I love dearly were with me and healthy and happy and I am incredibly grateful and blessed that this is so. That’s all the gift I needed.
Later that night I was leaving mom’s old bedroom, now storage and exercise room, and I felt the impulse to whisper to the darkened ceiling, still glowing from her glow in the dark stars, Happy Christmas Mom, I love you. I was at peace.
A few days later when I was taking the outside lights down I moved the boxes in her old room and there was an unopened box of Christmas decorations that I swear had not been there before! I sat down and opened it and low and behold (pun intended) it was our family decorations, the ones I thought were irrevocably lost! I appreciate the serendipity or miracle or marvel that I didn’t find them until I was ready—until I’d made peace with Christmas. Until I’d made peace with loving mom long distance.