And So This Is Christmas … Let The Grief In

11707525_10207441430377154_9100322329456334294_nIt’s late December, only days to Christmas. The kids are out of school and it’s dark already at 4:30 pm. All the lights burn in the kitchen where my husband is busy making sugar cookies with our girls. Flour dusts the counters and floors, and a delicious aroma fills the house. I’ve got emails to tackle, but I’m doing it reclined on the couch while listening to Christmas music. All my albums — traditional, classical, contemporary, instrumental, pop — are on shuffle and iTunes is creating our playlist. The music stays pleasantly in the background of my awareness until I hear the opening phrase of Happy Xmas.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun.”

The unmistakable timbre of John Lennon’s voice causes me to pause my work. I close my eyes and listen, the melody, familiar and comforting.

“And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young.”

I feel this song in ¾ time, as much as I hear it. Like a waltz or a lullaby, the lilting rhythm soothes. Nostalgia washes over me. Then it washes right through me. The melody swells with the entrance of the children’s chorus and fat tears fill my eyes, hot and quick.

“A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one without any fear.”

The music reaches down into my gut and grabs some unnamed emotion, shaking it loose, and allowing it to lift to the surface. Spreading like liquid through my chest, the harmonies caress and untangle knots in my neck and shoulders. Recognition slips into my conscious mind, and I take a sharp breath in.

And so this is Christmas. Without my mom.

It is the music that causes me to come undone. Always the music. The emotion I’ve tucked out of the way so I could keep doing my life this holiday season, is unleashed now. Unfettered, it expands, becoming large and all-encompassing. I let it come.

And so this is melancholy; I miss my mother. It’s been nearly five months since she died. My eyes spill over as I recall her face, seeing her smile and hearing her voice. Time stretches and loops back, and this moment contains all the Christmases I’ve spent as her daughter. Stored safely in my head, cherished memories, replay in my mind. I wrap them around me like a warm blanket.

In the song, a key change. The mood lifts and the lyrics offer a message of hope. While John sings, “And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, the rich and the poor ones, the road is so long,” the children sing in whole notes, “War is ov-er, if you want it. War is ov-er, if you want it.”

Weeping now, I’m saturated with sorrow. And not just for myself, but for everyone with a broken heart at Christmas. For those far from me, devastated by war and without a home. For the homeless with nowhere to go. For those navigating the excruciating void left by the death of their loved ones.

How do we embrace Christmas when there’s such pain and suffering?

Through the translucence of my tears, I see my daughters at the dining room table bent over their project; thickly spreading frosting on shapes of candy canes and gingerbread men, and dousing them with sprinkles, smearing stickiness everywhere. Licking fingers made blue and green by food coloring.

I watch my husband, outfitted in his elf apron, take another batch out of the oven. I know that he, too, is missing his mother. Gone more than two years, it seems like yesterday. He’s carrying on, for the third Christmas now, her tradition with the kids. I don’t think she set out to establish a yearly ritual, but Christmas without a weekend spent baking at MeMe’s house wouldn’t be complete for my girls, just as it wouldn’t without visiting Santa or decorating the tree.

My husband uses his mom’s recipe and her cookies cutters, the same ones she used when he was a boy. Dented and worn, the precious talismans hold her energy; a sacred reminder that keeps her close. He tells me the loss still stings, but his memories are beginning to bring him peace. He tells me as time passes, remembering will bring my mother back to me.

I hold on to what he says, but my grief is raw and I wonder how I can balance remembering her and going on without her. How do I move forward with my life, but not forget the past? Yet even now, the sharpness of her absence is laced with tenderness, my longing accompanied by intense gratitude. With relief, it dawns on me that physical separation doesn’t erase what has been. I’m consoled by the thought of keeping her with me simply by remembering what we shared.

Love is an energy that does not die.

In this season of peace, the boundary between worlds feels thin. Permeable. Magic abounds and belief is suspended. In this elevated state we can sense the presence of those no longer living; they are indeed close. But we must stop long enough to let it in. My sister says, “When I’m still and exhausted and sober and quiet, Mom comes to me. And I cry.”

And so this is Christmas, and I ache to talk to my mom. To hear her voice and wrap her in my arms one more time. But, I can’t. And it hurts so much that sometimes I can’t breathe. At the same time, I feel her presence everywhere; in generosity, in compassion, and mostly in love. By living robustly, leaning into what’s in front of me and saying, “YES!” to life, I feel her closest to me.

The song ends and a new one begins. Suddenly, my girls are dancing.

Children go where I send thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee one by one. One for the little bitty baby born, born, born in Bethlehem.”

The rich harmonies and thigh-slapping rhythm from Hall & Oates’ version of the traditional spiritual send my daughters into jubilant cavorting. They jump and bounce, wave their arms and shimmy, whip their hair and shake their hips. All long-legginess and ponytails and adolescence, they are exuberance in motion, beauty incarnate. I think how Mom would love this. How she would clap her hands and laugh with a wide-open mouth.

There is life here. And it is good.

The human heart can hold both joys and sorrows. I miss my mom and will for the rest of my life. I resonate my husband’s grief as he makes his way without his mother. And I relish my girls who are with me now. Beings of light, they embody eternity, as do all those I love who are alive and well. It’s possible to mourn and celebrate synchronously. The beauty of the past alights in the present where new memories are being made; what we live now are the recollections we’ll relive down the road.

And so Happy Christmas, for black and for white. For yellow and red. For dark and for light.

4 comments

  • Michele Hauser-White

    Lisa, I’m so sorry about your Mom, I hadn’t heard. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Much Love

    • LisaPullenKent

      Thank you, Missy. Heidi just saw Kevin at Grandma’s 100th birthday and he told her he was visiting your mom and saw it in the Cheiftan. That makes me happy–I knew there would be many who remembered her there and would want to know.

      Thank you for thinking of us. I miss her so. Love to you and all your wonderful family!

  • Denise T-K

    Thank you for baring you soul. I lost my dad physically 6 months ago. He had Alzheimer’s so he was disappearing longer than that. I too have felt the deep pain of the memories and loss while seeing the wonder of the season in my grandchildren’s eyes. It is comforting to know I’m not alone in this pain.

    • LisaPullenKent

      Thank you, for sharing your story with me. I’m so sorry about your Dad. ‘He was disappearing.’ Such an accurate description of the brutal reality of Alzheimer’s. Seeing him live on in your grandchildren, must be comforting, indeed. Thank you for reaching out, Denise. Blessings to you in your loss. <3

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