Holiday grief makes the lights shine less bright
It was my husband who set me off this year. We were doing a drive-by look at the just beginning to twinkle holiday lights and he sighed and said: “I miss your Mom.”
Me too. Funny how some holiday seasons have more grief bubbling to the surface than others. My mother has been gone almost 11 years, so being without her this time of year is not new.
She lived until she was 90, was one of my main supporters and confidantes, made all of us better people just for knowing her, and died suddenly of heart failure one wintry night.
I don’t believe in the supernatural. But I do believe, after losing both parents suddenly at different times in my life, that our relationships with the departed continue to change and grow, even after one person in the relationship is no longer living.
Holiday grief is like no other. This is the season that tries so hard to make things “merry” that it ends up amplifying both loss and loneliness.
My feelings about this holiday? Complicated. When I met my Jewish husband, I converted to Judaism, and have never had a Christmas tree in 35 years of marriage and raising a family.
With the richness of new traditions I got in return — including the eight days of Chanukah which began this week — it was surprisingly not such a big deal.
For my divorced mother, my new holiday normal was just fine. Christmas had some painful associations for her. Like so many women who had to snap their fingers and make the holiday happen with food, decor and presents, it sometimes was far too much work for too little pleasure.
“Will you take me with you?” she joked when I told her I was “crossing over” and would celebrate Chanukah instead.
The good news was that with no other family to fight over me for this holiday, we would always join her and my brother and his family on Christmas Day.
My husband, raised in Montreal, was once a teenage elf in the Santa Claus parade. He has always been more heavily into the holiday spirit than I was.
Perhaps my mother was his not-so-secret excuse to Christmas it up — although no one needs a membership in any faith to enjoy festive times, beautiful lights and glorious music.
It was he who came up with the best tradition for my Mom. She would join us Christmas Eve, we’d sit by the fire exchanging Chanukah/Christmas (for her) presents, and then, with my husband at the wheel, we would tuck her into the back of the car and drive her around to see the lights. (As soon as our kids were teens, they developed their own ritual after dinner — swiftly heading off to the movies.)
So it was just the three of us, and we had a ball driving from Rosedale to Little Italy oohing, aahing and occasionally groaning at the holiday excess.
My mother was also the star guest at our Chanukah party, where my friends still talk about how they lined up to speak with her. She remembered everyone’s name.
Often at that party she wore her black and white checked party blouse. I’ve written about it before as something I simply cannot give away.
It is still hanging in a closet where I gathered it up recently and sniffed it. No perfume smell left.
She would have been 100 this year, so chances are the season wouldn’t have been hers to enjoy anyway — although the fastest-growing demographic is now centenarians and some are amazingly feisty.
A few years after she died, I wrote my mother a letter, telling her all that had transpired in her absence.
I highly recommend this to those who are hurting hard this season by a recent loss, or to those who feel a long-term absence more deeply this year.
Maybe I will do that again, too.
My mother was a proud American Democrat and no doubt would be astonished and horrified by some of the political goings on today. She died when George W. Bush was in office and she used to refer to him as “that awful man.” (Hah)
Maybe I’ll skip the Donald Trump part.
But she’ll be very glad to know that we’re still sitting by that same fire, that her grown grandchildren still mimic her saying “mahvellous!” and that her party blouse is still in the closet. Just on the off-chance she can join us.
Although maybe that’s the whole point — of course she’s joining us. The people we’ve loved and lost are always present at our celebrations.
It’s just that this year, those holiday lights don’t seem so bright without her.
Judith Timson writes weekly about cultural, social and political issues. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @judithtimson