It has taken three Christmases, two Easters and numerous birthdays and anniversaries since my mom passed away, but I think I finally found that elusive HOLIDAY SWEET SPOT, that place where I am able to incorporate memories of my mom into a holiday celebration without repeating the Great Christmas Eve Meltdown of 2015.
(That holiday ended with Chinese take-out. Nope, most definitely not the original menu plan.)
Until now, most holidays have played out something like this:
- I must remember ALL THE RECIPES my mom made for [insert holiday] and recreate them! OMIGOD THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAZING.
- Holy cow, I have a lot of shopping to do. Must make list.
- I finally made my list, awesome. No time to buy all this today but that is ok. I made the list!
- PHEW, I FINALLY GOT ALL THE INGREDIENTS. <collapses.>
- Crap, I have to make how many different recipes? (Counts in head…yep, nearly half a dozen.)
- I am so sad. Ugh, I can’t stand anticipatory grief. Grief just from thinking about how the grief is coming, how unfair is that. [Insert holiday] is not the same without mom. This sucks.
- You mean making all these recipes won’t magically bring my mom back/make grief less hard/capture all the magic of all the years of my life?? SCREW THIS!
- I bought all the stuff. Must make at least one dish. I’ll choose the one containing chocolate, butterscotch, sugar and corn syrup. (<—Note: ACTUAL ingredients in one of my mom’s recipes. Amazingly, she did not die of diabetes.)
- I ate too many of the desserts containing corn syrup. I feel like crap. This is nothing like the way mom did [insert holiday]. I am going to weep into my sugary dessert.
- Holidays are the WORST. Must not do this to myself again.
Yeah, as you can see I definitely make sure to always manage expectations and be gentle with myself during the holiday season.
Easter just rolled around and I was determined to chill the heck out. This was a good holiday to practice on because it doesn’t hold the heavy expectations of Christmas, and if all fails, well, chocolate.
Want to hear my brilliant plan? I decided I was going to make only ONE of my mom’s recipes.
That’s it. I don’t want to give away the punch line or anything, but guess what: that’s the sweet spot.
I know: MIND BLOWN.
Let me walk you through what this looked like:
- I am only picking ONE recipe. ONE. Which one contains the most butter and carbs? BINGO: cheesy potatoes it is.
- Must buy ingredients. Awesome, I only need to pick up a few things, including corn flakes. (Every great family recipe contains corn flakes.)
- Time to cook. Only one ingredient requires more than opening and pouring a container! (Must chop an onion. Look at me, I’m crying, but not from grief!)
- Not to brag or anything but I am basically rocking this. Yep, just throwing this dish together at 8am on Easter, but in a laid back way, not a frantic “must-find-way-to-honor-my-dead-mother” sort of way.
- Why, this is so easy even a child can do it! Just had the three-year-old help by stirring ingredients for a full ten seconds. Memory-making complete.
- Dish prepped and in the fridge. I can relax now? This is weird. Very, very weird.
That was it. I mean, yes, I had to open the oven door and insert delicious cheesy potato goodness into the oven, and then remove it an hour later, but really that was it.
That. Was. It.
This less-stress, more joy approach seems to be much better than setting ridiculous expectations and crumpling into a grief pile when it all fails.
It seems that when you honor your loved one in simple ways—and leave enough space to enjoy the honor—you might even end up having a magical moment.
At dinner, when I bit into my potatoes I felt so much love…my heart was flooded with memories of my mom and this recipe that donned so many holiday tables. It was beautiful.
(Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the recipe is also hits all the pleasure points–butter! carbs! sour cream! cheese! But I digress.)
This, my friends, is progress. I am hoping for a repeat performance with Mother’s Day. And hopefully I will have fully honed the technique by the time Christmas rolls around.
Pick one dish. Keep it simple. Feel the love.
Cheesy potatoes for the win.