In about 2 and a half weeks, we will be celebrating Christmas and then a week later, we will begin a new year. This will be the third year without my mother and it still feels like she died yesterday. I started thinking about the last three years and I realized that I had given up on my festive holiday spirit. Gone were the Christmas decorations I put up all over my home that spilled into the hallway for all my neighbors and their friends to enjoy. Gone was the excitement of wrapping every gift I bought with careful thought to the recipient. Gone was the anticipation of seeing friends and family and catching up with all the events of the last year.
I couldn’t do it.
I felt guilty for enjoying a holiday when my mother wasn’t around. Laughing, dancing, eating and singing out of tune were things just not acceptable to me because if I enjoyed it somehow it meant I didn’t miss my mom or worse, I didn’t love her now that she wasn’t here with us any more. Is that silly or what?
I started reading the journal I kept during the year my mom was dying. I started the journal because it was easier and much safer to write down my frustrations, my annoyances and my anger with my family than giving them a smack on the head for their silly behavior. I met another part of me I didn’t know existed. When my mom passed away, I put that Sonia away as well. Now I’m getting to know her all over again and realizing I wasn’t such a bad person back then. I felt guilty each time I wrote something about one of my sisters because we were all supposed to put all that nonsense aside and be there for our mom and here I was writing these negative things about them because to communicate this to them by word of mouth was a sure guarantee that war would break out. That’s not what my mom needed to see.
My journal became my punching bag.
And boy did it feel good.
Three years later, as I felt that little sneaky depression crawling into my body, I pulled out the journal. I’m not sure why but I felt at that point that maybe I could find something in my words that did make me happy during that sad year in my mother’s life. I needed to find the good in my sisters and I didn’t want to have any left over negative feelings towards them that somehow always came to the surface during the holidays.
Three years was long enough.
I found it.
They weren’t so bad after all.
They still drive me nuts but that’s who they are. I’m sure I’m just as nutty if not more. I saw the change that did take place these past few years and it wasn’t in the words I had written down three years ago, it was in the reaction I had to them three years later. I took a walk through that year and I don’t know how I managed to get up each and every day to take care of my mom knowing that I could walk into her apartment and find that she had died in her sleep. The fear I felt each and every morning I put the key in the door was like a sledgehammer hitting me over and over again. And then the roller coaster of emotions would continue from there until I’d get home, get to bed, emotionally and physically exhausted, unable to sleep a full two hours, only to begin my day again. It didn’t help that my own life at home was starting to unravel and going to a place I never expected it to go. I don’t know how I managed to get thru each day but I did.
The last three months of my mother’s life were the hardest. We sincerely thought she’d make it through the holidays and we all looked forward to making it a great one. Each of us decided we would take over one of the days and make it the best for mom. Of course, the cooking was all on me but it was a pleasure because I remembered how much love my mom had put into every single meal she made us. I never even knew until I was much older that we were poor. I never felt poor. Meals at home were family time. Meals meant that God had given us yet another blessing, for yet another day. I immediately began making a list of all the food my mom loved and that became my menu. Then in August, all hell broke loose. My husband had betrayed me and we separated. This was not something I needed my mother to know. She loved him so much but I couldn’t deal with him. I felt of all the times he could have done what he did, why pick the year my mother was dying? It wasn’t that any other time would have been acceptable, it was just that I needed him so much and he was giving to someone else what he should have been giving to me. That tore my heart. And yet I had to keep a positive and happy attitude around my mother. I would not be the cause of any stress in her life. No sooner did I have to face that challenge, I then found out I had to have surgery and now my worry became who would take care of my mother while I was in the hospital? I prayed that my mother would not die while I was recuperating and I begged God to just give me a little more time because I knew my mom didn’t have much of it left.
I survived that too. And a month after my surgery my mom died just the way she wanted to; with her children by her side hearing them tell her that they loved her and that we would all be okay, that she could go be with daddy. She bowed her head then and left us. I remembered thinking that here we were all adults and the doctors told us they did not know why my mom was hanging on as long as she was and I thought to myself it was because she didn’t want to leave her children. She still wanted to care for us. I remembered reading somewhere that when someone is dying it’s okay to tell them they can go. They need to hear this. When we did that with mom I knew she was hanging on because she knew all her daughters were going through something and she needed to be there. I knew she was tired. I saw the light in her eyes go out a month before she passed. I knew it was important to tell her that she could go and that we would be okay. I don’t know if it makes any sense to any of you reading this but as hard as it was to see my mother die, when she did, I never felt so loved as I did that day. She let go only when she was sure that we would be okay. WOW!
The night she died, after we took care of the necessary things, I came home to a decorated apartment that looked more like all the displays from every big chain store in Manhattan. I hated every sparkly thing. I wanted to tear the tree down. I didn’t want to wrap any more presents. I just existed the next three days until we laid her to rest with our dad. Then when we all thought that the worst was over, having to clean out the home she lived in for over 30 years was the hardest. Everything we touched, every thing we packed away, made us cry. It was truly over. We managed to do it all in silence with a happy thought every once in a while. And that’s when Christmas changed for me. I wanted the New Year to be here so I wouldn’t have to see all the fun stuff around me. It just wasn’t right.
Then two days after Christmas, when we decided that we should not be apart as a family, when we all decided to head over to my niece’s house to bring in the New Year, my sister became a widow. Once again we were thrown back into a world we never wanted to be a part of.
And that’s when I became angry.
That year was the year I’m sure God was testing us. But he also gave us many gifts. He gave us the gift of time; The gift of patience and definitely the gift of compassion. Seven months after my mother passed away, my husband’s mom died. I was numb once again.
Before I knew it, the holidays were upon us once again. We chose to run away to Florida the day after Christmas thinking a chance of place would bring back the holiday spirit. It only served to remind us that wherever we go we take all our pain, all our memories and all our emotions with us. But that was yet another lesson to be learned.
And here we are, three years later…
My Christmas Wonderland is proudly displayed in my hallway. I have put up my tree with all its glitter, sparkle and lights. The hallway on my floor has come back to life and my neighbors are dropping me little notes telling me how much they missed it. I missed it. And I knew that doing all of this was not being uncaring towards my mom. Instead it was an homage to my mom for she loved the holidays and all it’s wonderful magic.
I don’t see this year as another year of survival because if I did that then it would make all the accomplishments through this year less than what they were. I’ve met some really great people who have their own story of sadness and death. I’ve met people that have showed me how great life is and how much I could miss if I choose to stay in this sad world I create every year around this time. I’ve met some truly strong and powerful women who live with a tragedy with such strength and courage that it has inspired me to be the best that I can be. They’ve given a new meaning to paying it forward.
All the things we go through in life are lessons. We may not know what the lessons are about but in time that lightbulb will shine bright and our aha moment will beam for us.
This year is another year my mother will be looking down on all of us, smiling, sending us light and love as she embraces my dad and spends time with my brother who was taken from us so young. This year, we will all celebrate the meaning of Christmas, thankful for having had so many with mom, dad and my brother. This year I count my blessings that God has given me yet again the gift of life, the gift of time. December 31st will be my tenth year as a cancer fighter and I’m ever so grateful that I have lived this long to share so much with so many. This year…tis the season and I’m very jolly.
I share this with all of you because I know there are many out there that are sad just like I was. I know many of you will not look forward to the holidays because you are not where you want to be. I know many of you feel alone and the holidays always seem to emphasize just how alone we are. BUT….
It doesn’t have to be that way… take charge… make it the year that you take over that sadness, that depression and that empty feeling and turn it around. Look around you. Who can YOU help to make this Holiday season a good one. I promise you when you give of yourself to others, the rewards are bountiful. Go out and buy at least one decoration that reminds you of past Holidays when you weren’t so sad. Hang it up… display it… look at it as a reminder of hope… Find a new ornament that will symbolize how great it is to be alive and happy. Buy a CD of Christmas songs and dance as if no one is watching. Sing as if you are a song bird. Bake some cookies. Invite some friends over. There is so much you can do in the spirit of peace and love and most importantly hope. Then do it…
God Bless YOU!