Christmas is everything to my family. Growing up it was the one day that I felt unapologetic about the gifts received and the joy it brought. Given that Santa brought them, I knew my parents weren’t burdened by the costs and that they truly enjoyed it as well. Christmas meant baking Christmas cookies and making sure they had enough frosting on them for dad’s liking. It meant a real Christmas tree, lots of Dolly Parton Christmas music, and Dickens homes on the mantel. No matter where we lived at the time (even in Argentina and France) Christmas meant Family.
I lost my mother in 2013. She was diagnosed with neuro-endocrine cancer in 2009, was deemed in remission in 2010, but became ill with a secondary, chemo-induced leukemia in 2012. Despite a lot of odds, she made it through one last holiday season with us and we knew it was because of her love of celebrating- her love for Christmas- and everything it meant to our family. Her last Christmas with us was spent in our home, opening gifts amidst the medical chaos that our home had become. My mother was able to be discharged for the holiday but was readmitted the day after Christmas. I remember soaking in her presence and knew it would be our last Christmas together.
Mothers are glue in any family, and she certainly was in mine. She was the orchestrator of the chaos- the planner, organizer, and the gatherer of us all as we aged and began to wander away from her home base. With her loss, my family has been slowly wading through what the holidays mean for us now. The hardest part about grief is that I don’t just miss my mom, I miss who my family was when she was alive. I miss our traditions, I miss all of the laughter, and I certainly miss the chaos that the holidays once were when my family was complete.
Life looks much different than it did just a few short years ago, but now that I have my own daughter, there are steps that we are taking to make Christmas just as special for our little family now as it was for me growing up.
The only gift my siblings and I received from our parents were Christmas Eve Pajamas. You better believe that those were usually matching for my sister and I, with a coordinated set for my baby brother. And you have obviously picked up on the fact that this is continuing on as a tradition in my household. Matching family pajamas seem to be the trend as of late, and the fact that it helps me feel a bit of my mama’s joy makes it that much better. Our favorite are Hanna Andersson!
It is no exaggeration that I baked 12 dozen cookies last year. The spread included Sugar cookie cutouts, snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, and magic bars. Sugar “Christmas Cookies” are beyond delicious, and given that I have so many memories of these cookies from growing up, they are a must each holiday season. I am so excited to include my toddler in icing the cookies this year. I’ve even mastered converting my mom’s go-to recipe into being gluten-free friendly.
Seeing All of the Family
Traveling around the holidays is exhausting, it just is. But it is also such a blessing to have so many family members who love us. It means so much to me, as well, to spend time with my moms family and to enjoy being around people who loved my mom as much as I do. I remember traveling every year after Santa arrived, and then seeing cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. Those memories are such a positive space in my heart and one I hope my daughter can share in as she grows up, too. Though this means multiple car trips between Cincinnati, Chillicothe, and Indianapolis, it is so worth it!
Say Goodbye to the Negative
Grief can divide families, and really, even destroy them. Everyone’s healing path looks different, and that is okay. But boundaries can be a beautiful thing, and you are never required to be around toxic family members. As mentioned above, one of the hardest parts of grief for me is grieving what my family once looked like. But one of the most beautiful aspects of becoming a mother myself is getting to re-define what and who my family is. In a recent conversation with my siblings, we discussed a powerful lesson both of our parents taught us: Family is what you MAKE not what you are GIVEN. Sometimes our family may feel smaller and a little less whole than it did a few years ago. But, that doesn’t stop us from loving one another and taking care of one another. Grief also teaches you that your heart will always have room for forgiveness, for healing, and for love. There will always be extra seats in my home and in my heart as our family continues to grow and change.
The Holidays are FUN
I love that my holiday memories include my mom and dad being present in the moment with us, playing with our new toys, and watching our new movies. This is a huge motivator for me, and the reason I refuse to spend all day in the kitchen on any holiday. Home cooked meals are heavenly, so we get creative in how to make them and handle the clean up in a timely fashion. This also helps me remember that the holidays should be no stress- it’s about enjoying one another and the company and not about a perfect meal or a perfect gift.