Christmas is when you get here
The following piece was written in 2003, after the sudden deaths of both my husband’s mother Edna and my mother Kathryn, and revised in 2020.
For some of us, this holiday season is difficult because we are mourning the loss of a loved one. Like the ornament on a branch too tiny for its sudden weight, grief hangs on my heart. As this is my first December without my mother and my mother-in-law, I look to them for the strength to survive the holiday season.
My mothers loved Christmas like children love Santa Claus. They only wanted one gift every year: their family home for the holidays. My husband and I spent every year of our marriage alternating between Ohio and Maryland, and later between Maryland and Tennessee. We tried to be fair and take turns.
Edna was so gracious that if I told her we couldn’t come until Dec. 28, she would say, “Christmas is when you get here.” My son says I am the matriarch now. I am shocked to hear those words and afraid of the responsibility.
My mother-in-law indulged me with wonderful Christmas gifts: gold earrings, make-up by Marcello Borghese, flannel pajamas by L.L. Bean, but we often talked about the greatest gift she gave me – her son. Now that I have my own son, I know how precious that gift is. I wrap my arms around him like he were the trunk of a tree and lean in close.
It seems impossible that I will someday let his wife have him for Christmas. And how will I let go of my only daughter? My independent, strong-willed daughter. I want to wedge myself in a shadowy corner near the tree and whisper, “Don’t forget me when you get married. Don’t forget about your first home.”
After my mother passed, my sisters and I met at her condo and divided up her possessions. I took her cookie jar because it reminded me of my childhood, when life seemed less complicated and my mother was content to bake us cookies. But then she would admonish us as we often stole the frozen ones out of the freezer where she had been safely keeping them until the 25th. Cookies and cartoons could make us all happy for a few minutes, until someone changed the channel on the TV and the arguments began.
Every Christmas, my mother asked for no arguing, saying it was the only gift she wanted. So when my sister Bonnie asked for the cookie jar, I gave it to her. In a large family, we could always count on love as well as chaos. As Dad would say, our home is like the damn toilet; it will never stop running. I hope someday I can become a matriarch as worthy as my role models.