Wednesday, December 25, 2013

So this is Christmas

First Christmas without her. First Christmas without my mom.

I was able to forget, or to be swept up in the beauty of Christmas Eve, in the joy of Christmas morning. The opening of stockings, the wearing pajamas until the afternoon, the gifts, the food, the time together near the Christmas tree.

But then it calmed down. And I realized I was sad, and mad. I was smad. And tired - tired of pretending that this Christmas was a normal one, tired of being in the "Christmas spirit."

So before I take my smadness out on the dishes, I'm stopping, and letting myself have a good cry, and letting myself ignore "Love Actually" in the other room, and instead writing this. Jotting down these unprocessed and raw emotions - not unsurprising emotions, but still raw.

I miss you, mom. I miss you so much.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Permission (8 months)

Recently I got a Christmas update letter from a friend, and at the top of the letter she had handwritten this note: 

"I think your mom would want you to enjoy the holidays, don't you?" Coming from her this wasn't just a platitude to fill awkward silence or empty space. Coming from her, someone who is both a mother and has lost a mother, who gives me a mom hug every time I see her, it was permission. 

I didn't know how much I needed permission to enjoy the holidays this year until I got this note, but when read it and started bawling I figured it out: I just needed someone to tell me it was okay to not be sad all this Christmas. I needed someone to tell me it was okay to have fun at Christmas parties, and to spend time with friends, and to love all the lights. I needed someone to tell me that I didn't have to be in sackcloth and ashes this year, during my family's favorite time of year. 

Today has not been an "enjoy the holidays" kind of day. Today has been a tidal wave of grief that I just had to ride into shore - keeping myself busy at work, watching Buffy, eating chocolate and crying with a friend. But that's okay too. Whether it's a wave of grief or a wave of joy, my mom would want me to feel it all. 

I love you, mom. I've missed you for 8 months, and I'm going to miss you for a lot longer. But I know, without a doubt, with the help of my friend, that you would want me to enjoy the holidays. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Advent is a season of waiting. We wait for the coming King, for Christ to be born, God with us, Emmanuel. We sing lyrics like “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” and “O come, o come Emmanuel,” and light candles in the darkness to remember the coming light.

I was reminded today that waiting is countercultural to us in America. Waiting for anything – for our clothes to be washed, for the microwave to beep – can feel like agony, a waste of time. Waiting doesn’t come naturally to us. It makes us uncomfortable.

But still we wait in Advent. And I’ve learned that often we also wait in death. I was waiting for my mom to die for 20 months. It wasn’t waiting for a cure, or waiting for her to improve. It was waiting for her to decline, for her to sleep all day, for her to eventually never wake up.

Most of the time, when I think of waiting for her death, it isn’t something that ends joyfully, it wasn’t a beautiful fulfillment of my expectations. But today I remember that her death wasn’t all that I was truly waiting for. I take my words from Zechariah’s song, after he waited for years to have a son:
By the tender mercy of our God
the dawn from on high broke upon her,
to give light to those of she who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide her feet into the way of peace.
Today I was reminded that as I waited for her death, I also waited for this – for mercy, for the dawn to break on her, for her to be guided into the way of peace. I waited for this light that shone even in the midst of the shadow. I waited for death, but I also waited in hope, for the coming light of the baby Jesus.

May the lights and the candles in the face of the darkness remind me of that this Advent season. May the coming of Emmanuel give me hope in the face of despair. And may we all be guided this year into the way of peace.


I was talking to a friend this week, and she asked, “Did I ever tell you about how much your mom’s memorial service impacted me?” She hadn’t, so she told me the story.

She told me that she has been to lots of weddings in the past few years (twelve, I think), and they’ve all been beautiful, and full of love, and all that good stuff. But she said that my mom’s service, and hearing about my parents love for one another, was the most beautiful and whole picture of marriage she had seen.

She said that seeing the hard parts of the vows, the parts we tend to forget about on the wedding day, the “in sickness” and “til death do us part” portions of the vows – seeing how those played out in my parent’s marriage was beautiful. She had only met my parents once before, but through the stories people shared at the service she was still able to see their deep, abiding love for one another.

As she shared this, she started to cry, and so did I. I was so honored to hear this story from her, and to know that my parents’ love and commitment to one another was so evident, even at a funeral, in a time of mourning.

And friends, if you get married, I may write you a somewhat depressing card – about supporting one another in hard times, in sickness, in struggle. Don’t be alarmed. I write that because the best example I have of marriage, of love, and of commitment, comes from my parents, who lived out their vows even in sickness and in death.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmastime is here...

Christmas has always been a big season for my family. In a home that always had minimal decorations, Christmastime transformed the house with its lights, and colorful ornaments, and green garlands and nativities. 

Every year my sister and I give each other an ornament. Before my sister and I were old enough to do this for ourselves our parents would give us the one new ornament. This means our tree is covered in ornaments from over the years - starting with handmade beauties of colored glue on frozen orange juice lids, on to glass ice cream cones and ceramic teacups from a year-round Christmas store in North Carolina, to handsewn owls that would sell well on Etsy. 

This year, when we were listening to "A Christmas Album" by Amy Grant and putting all the ornaments on the tree, my heart hurt when I picked up a few of then - but each made me remember and love my mom a little more. 

My mom cross stitched this for me when I was five years old, and she made one for my sister too. She loved to cross stitch, and even wanted to do it in her last few months. I love that I have something she made for me, to keep on the tree as a reminder of her love for me, every Christmas. 

I made this ornament for my mom the first Christmas after she got sick. I made some for a lot of my friends - I think it was the creative outlet I needed to be able to deal with all the changes that happened in my family that year. She loved the owl, she thought it was beautiful, but it makes me cry to know she only got to enjoy it for two years. And to know that now, since she's not here, it'll go in my ornament box when we pack everything up, and not hers. 

And this ornament - this ornament just reminds me that our family is missing a part. One of us isn't here this year, one of those hearts is missing. There's nothing I can do to change that, nothing I can do to bring her back. But there's also nothing that can take her out of the wreath, out of our life or our love. We will always be four, even when only three of us decorate the tree this year. 

I guess Christmas ornaments can really tell a story, can chronicle the life of a family. And even though they're only up for a month or so, I'm thankful that they're there each year, just waiting to make us remember. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"The sobs racked his throat and his chest and the tears dazzled him..."

--- The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

"A deep, but dazzling darkness"

--- A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

There's something dazzling, something beautiful about the darkness, about the tears. It's true, it's real, it's healing. It's light. 

There's something dazzling, something beautiful, about the tears, about the darkness