Take heart. I bet you have it together more than you think.
For goodness sake, it’s not like you still have Christmas decor lying around in your shrubs in July!
“I have to tell you some-ting.”
Today the shortest and most precocious member of the household woke me up full of ideas. Could we surprise daddy with early late father’s day? Could we get a cat and name him Sparky Fur? (Sparky is the first name and Fur the last name, in case you were curious.)
At first I was all like, no we can’t have early late Fathers Day! (We missed the actual father’s day because the father was traveling. And then the whole family was traveling. And then the mama had to wait for the custom-ordered mug from Walgreens.com to arrive.) But then I was like, hello of course we can have early late father’s day. Sure the gifts aren’t wrapped and the child is naked (ALWAYS) and the husband is in stinky running clothes. But let’s be wild and crazy and just do it!
So we did. And I realized I also forgot to write in the card I gave my husband. I told him to project whatever it is he wants to hear from me onto the card. I think it would say, “You are the greatest husband and father especially with keeping the house clean and I’m sorry I never do the dishes because I can’t stand your refusal to rinse the dishes before piling them in the sink!” Maybe that last bit was me projecting. It’s ok, I’ll own it.
Anyway, hope you all had a very special regular on-time (or maybe even early late) Father’s Day!
(P.S. We are not getting a cat. And no we cannot get rid of the dogs to get the cat named Sparky Fur! I’m now convinced the only person giving love to our old lazy beagles is yours truly.)
That was the three-year-old in response to stuffing being placed on her thanksgiving plate. The nerve! You don’t even want to hear what she said about the celery.
(She did however find Redi-whip to be quite to her liking. She ran around the house with it clutched in her hands and squealing. It took three of us to corner her and grab the can before total-and-utter-whipped-cream-chaos ensued.)
Never a dull moment with this kid.
I started this blog a little more than a year ago and so much has changed in that time.
I thought about this earlier this week as I rolled a pie crust, dancing to Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, belting out old standards that my mom loved. I felt so much joy. This was possibly the first holiday that wasn’t overshadowed by grief. Yes, my mom popped in my head often but it was met more often with smiles than tears. I know she would love my crooning to Lush Life, the same song she belted out when playing the Linda Ronstadt record. And certainly, there were moments of sadness and longing this holiday (this is inevitable, you can’t ignore the empty chair at the table) but overall I felt more peace this year.
And it’s fair to say I feel more rooted than in November 2015. A few days ago I walked the dogs in nearby pine brush woods, collecting tropical flowers, palm fronds and scarlet berries to make a homemade flower bouquet. This act now feels normal. Routine. Familiar even. This landscape of my life–both literal and figurative–that shifted so dramatically beneath my feet three years ago now feels like home.
I recently heard a moving interview with the poet/philosopher/spiritual writer Mark Nepo and he talked about how humans are unique animals because we can experience multiple metamorphoses. Periods of darkness that take us into a cocoon, often several times in the span of a liftime, and if we choose to we can emerge from these periods anew–with new wings, new eyes, new colors and stripes.
Twice I have entered this cocoon. The first in my early twenties. My second unfolding occurred with your help, dear readers.
I started this blog steeped in grief, and along the way suffered an additional loss–a miscarriage–that came close to breaking me. Instead, it broke me open. What a gift. I am grateful for it all, the darkness of the cocoon and the light that shines on newly spread wings. Many blessings to you and your family this holiday. I’m certain the best is yet to come.
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.
After we lit our Christmas tree this year, my nearly three-year-old daughter stood back and declared, “it’s bluetiful mommy!”
She didn’t realize it but her mispronunciation rang true. It is a blue Christmas. It’s a beautiful Christmas.
It is bluetiful.*
I am slowly, ever so slowly, starting to accept that bluetiful is the new normal. That the moments of greatest joy—like Christmas—are also moments that carry so much loss.
Often it is in the little unexpected things. As I was meticulously placing the lights on the Christmas tree, I stepped back to assess (and ask my daughter for her opinion, as though a three-year-old has opinions about tree light placement). Not satisfied by the gaps in light coverage, I removed all the lights and started over so I could get it just right. I then realized I was utterly and completely channeling my mother. I laughed and also shed a tear.
It was bluetiful.
As a kid I never understood all the sad Christmas songs. How could a holiday full of so much joy inspire so many sad tunes? And why did so many adults make such a fuss about the fact that I was so full of joy at Christmas time? How could it be so difficult, I used to wonder, to find the joy in the season?
Last year was a difficult Christmas. It was the second Christmas without my mom, and somehow it was much more difficult than the first year she was gone. I knew the first year would be hard. I expected difficult. But the second year, well I thought somehow it would magically all be OK again. And when it wasn’t, I was let down and angry.
This is the third Christmas without my mom. This year I am expecting the sad moments intertwined with the joy, like lights strung on the tree.
I know that I’ll tear up when I pull out the sweet Mickey Mouse ornament she purchased for me when I was not quite a kid anymore but not quite an adult.
I know that there be joy though, too. My daughter seems to have inherited my enthusiasm for the holiday. She marvels at the lights on houses, she points excitedly to any and all depictions of Santa Claus, and as she curls up on her pillow at night, she whispers “Santa Claus is coming!”
It is all so bluetiful.
I will do my best to delight in her unadulterated joy as I play (just a few) sad Christmas songs in the background. (And maybe even adjust the Christmas lights on the tree one last time.)
How is your holiday season going? I hope it lands gently for those who are missing loved ones. -Sarah
That time you swept and mopped your entire (tile) house from stem to stern and your toddler proceeded to spill the bucket of dirty water on said clean floors. And an hour later scattered the entire contents of a salt shaker around the house. And then peed on the bathroom floor for good measure.
Ahhh, normalcy is restored.