Merry Christmas, Mom

           It’s December 24th. Time has marched on for the last 33 days and skidded to a stop here, on Christmas Eve. As a heathen, I observe Yuletide instead- beginning on Dec. 20th but including the requisite visit from Santa on Dec. 25th. It doesn’t really matter what I celebrate though; it’s Christmas Eve. Even though my mom isn’t here anymore.

            My Mom celebrated Christmas like no other. Two trees, decked out in coordinating finery that would drop Martha Stewart’s jaw. Lighted garlands, crystal, elaborate wreaths. Four-course gourmet dinners, all prepared in matching holiday top and earrings that would remain miraculously spotless throughout. Not because she was putting on any sort of front, but because she genuinely loved the holiday. She often joked that she’d make sure she ‘kicked the bucket’ (her words) *before* having to put all the decorations away after New Year’s. She died, very suddenly, on November 21st. Well played, madam. Well played. 
         This is the third Christmas since we moved to Michigan. The first was agonizing; it felt so wrong not to be going to her house for dinner, to see her excitement as her grandchildren gazed at their gifts. To joke about resolutions and attempt trash can rimshots with balled-up wrapping paper wads. Guilt over the fun I was having with our relatives here warred with the ache to hug my mother on Christmas. Last year I was hurt and angry; I was also so nauseated I could barely swallow my own saliva without retching. There were good reasons for both, one of which is asleep in my arms right now. The other doesn’t matter now. My Mom is gone, and I wasted her last year of life running from those issues instead of resolving them. I can’t resolve them now. Ever. My mom is gone. 
                    She was going to come visit in May, when our farm is bursting at the seams with new life in its fledgling glory. Baby goats leaping like fuzzy pot-bellied ballerinas before tanking into the straw, butting each other over onto their sweet faces and baying for their mamas in offense. Adolescent chicks and turkey poults, partially feathered and gangly with baby-fuzz still covering their necks. Seedlings popping up in the newly-dug garden soil and the hens pecking through for worms. Fireflies appearing at dusk, a few more each night. Her little grand babies running for them, so sure they’ll catch one someday. Scouting for tadpoles in our ditch, scooping them up in old sour cream containers and bearing their prize to the porch for all to admire. I was so excited; when she saw this, our new reality, she would understand why we moved away. She would’ve loved it, but now she’s gone. 
                  She was going to meet her new grandson then, too. She always laughed when the babies snatched her glasses off, and Eivin is a pro at stealing mine. My first thought standing beside her casket was that she didn’t have her glasses on. Of course not, she didn’t need them. She was gone. Eivin met his Nana; he smiled at her like he’d known her face from the day he was born. For the first time ever, Nana didn’t smile back. I hope she saw his face light up for her through her new eyes, wherever she is. 

               We aren’t strangers to grief, my family. We’re old friends with mortality, with pain, with hardship. We’ve also known luck, and perseverence, and strength. The first three joined us in my mother’s warningless heart attack but the last three have been our companions through her years of chronic illness, giving us more time when the doctors said there was little. As my little sister and I held each other beside our mom’s casket, I reminded her what our mom told me 19 years earlier in the same room of the same funeral home beside the casket of our brother, her own twin- that grief is the price we pay for having loved. She was worth every second and more, and the world is so much richer for every step she took upon it. 
                We didn’t always get along, my mom and I. In some ways we were very different and in just as many we were much too alike. Both fiercely defensive of our view of what’s best for our loved ones. Very passionate, very stubborn. But all things aside, she was my mom, and she was wonderful. She stood beside me as a 15 year old throwaway who came home pregnant and terrified. She guided my first days of motherhood. She coached me through my next four unmediated labors, held my right hand as her grand babies were born. Supported me through a miscarriage in September 2010. Taught me how to knit and make her awesome meatloaf. We giggled like teenagers and spent weeks picking out my wedding dress. She was the gravitational pull that held our family in orbit, our anchor. The siren song that could always bring us all back home. When my dad  broke the news of her death it was 1am in Michigan, and I instantly felt myself spiraling out into space. Leaving the comfort of orbit and watching my dark bedroom slowly sink away beneath me.  

               Honestly, I’m not expecting to find peace. My guilt in the fact that I didn’t bridge our gap in time is never going to go away, or even lessen. I know that. Instead I’m hoping to somehow live around it, a blister that you always feel but don’t always notice. That’s not going to work today, unfortunately- how can it be Christmas when she’s gone? 

           So this year, I’m lifting my glass to a few different things.

        Here’s to the resilience of children, and the healing power of baby snuggles. 
        Here’s to my incredibly amazing husband, who has held me together and shepherded our family in our pain. Here’s to a man who has spent the last decade tirelessly loving a wife so profoundly broken in so many ways. 
        Here’s to getting out of bed, to putting both feet on the floor and acknowledging that I’m alive, although some days I question if I deserve to be. 
        Here’s to the great numbing power of grief, and how much easier it makes evening barn chores in subzero temperatures. 
        Here’s to goats,  snowflakes, holiday lights, hot coffee and all the other things that have a talent for inspiring momentary warm fuzzies when nothing else in the world can. 
        Here’s to persistent kittens and smiley babies, who can always succeed when the aforementioned things fail. 
        Here’s to half-stale holiday cookies, and eating them in my underwear in the light of the stove at 2:30am when I just can’t stand to close my eyes and hear the phantom ring of my phone anymore, and the paralyzing dread that still comes with it. 
       Here’s to putting the kids to bed and heading to the couch, curling up around my aching stomach and listening to her favorite Josh Groban carols on YouTube over and over and over even though I never used to like them. 
       Here’s to the hope that I’ll someday be able to see people out with their moms and not have to fight an overwhelming urge to start rabbit-punching them in the kidneys. 
        Here’s to getting so good at saying “I’m okay” that sometimes I almost believe it’s true. Almost. 
       Here’s to tomorrow, something I *can* change. And here’s to the loved ones I will never, ever take for granted again. 
       Mom, wherever you are, Merry Christmas. It’s not my holiday, but in my heart it will never really belong to anyone but you. 


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