It’s Christmas. Well, Christmas season, at least. I should be happy right now. After all, the feelgood vibes of the holiday season only come once a year. Unfortunately, in spite of my strongest efforts, I’m not. If I go to the room I grew up in, exit the door, walk slightly to the left, turn and make my way down the hall, I should find a Christmas tree adorned with dozens of sparkling Disney ornaments and cheesy things we made when I was a kid. This year, I see a haphazardly thrown together formality, simply there for the sake of seasonal compliance.
You see, normally I would be taking a leave from work so I can visit home for the holidays. I would be helping my mother bake cookies for the rest of the family, most likely using the little snowman-shaped cutter for the dough…because Mom absolutely loved snowmen for some weird, cute reason. Then, after making sure there were enough peanut butter cookies (because there were never enough of those), we would stuff them all into Ziploc bags, drive up to VA Beach, and spend Christmas with the family.
This will be the first Christmas without the most important person in my life.
Writing would help me, she said. We talked a lot this past year. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity I had just to be able to talk to her. I knew this day would be coming. I just didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. If there’s one thing I do remember from our late-night conversations, its that there’s never anything wrong with expressing the way you feel through one form or another. Writing, painting, talking, singing, it doesn’t matter. That’s probably the most valuable piece of advice she gave me. Always express yourself. Never be afraid to tell the world how you feel, or what they’ll think when you do.
We all go through these times, I know. I don’t mean to throw myself a pity party – in fact she would probably slap me if she knew I was writing in this depressing tone right now. I’m fully aware that death is one of life’s harsh, unavoidable realities. Its just that today I have the unfortunate opportunity to experience two impactful moments at once. The first birthday, the first Christmas season – after they’re gone. That confused state when you don’t know if someone should fill the role usually reserved for them. Mom always made the Christmas cookies. So who’s going to do it now? Should we even bother? Its a void. A hole. A gaping, penetrating, crushing hole that can’t be filled. Ever. The realization that those timeless moments which seemed to last forever will always remain only as memories, with nothing new on the horizon.
You think about the little things that are all too often taken for granted. Her gleaming smile as she sets a bag of sugar cookies down in front of everyone. The little twists of her wrists as she dances to her favorite Christmas song. The rasp of her baby voice as she feeds the dogs their treats. I revisit these moments in my mind, and can’t help rewinding to a time when when I was little. When she drove me to class after giving me my diagonally cut bologna/cheese sandwich, half an apple, and tropical Capri Sun. When she took my brother and I to the arcade, converting aluminum cans she’d saved to tokens so we could keep playing (and simultaneously recycle). When she helped me get through the final boss on Zelda on our little 8 bit Nintendo.
These are the things I cling to, and the things I so desperately long for this holiday season. The pain is something that can only be comprehended by those who have experienced the loss of their most important companion.
She really was as close to perfect as it gets. Selfless, genuine, and fiercely in love with her children. Without fail, I look at myself in the mirror every single day and wonder if I’ll ever be able to provide even a fraction of the good that she did to the world. Every child and student she touched knew how much she cared for them. Her positive exuberance was contagious. Its something I’ll never, ever come close to replicating.
But in spite of all of this, I know what she would want. She would want me to be strong. She would want me to live my life and be happy, even in the midst of the obstacle of obstacles that has been placed in the way. And I fully intend to do just that. The twisted irony is that its because of her that I even have the strength to do so.
I love you Mom. More than my words will ever be able to articulate, I love you.
Merry Christmas, and happy birthday.