First Christmas Without Mom
1st Christmas Song, 1st Tears Over Christmas Without Mom
When I started my daily chores this morning, I debated listening to some holiday music. I thought, "It's only November 5th, is it too early?" I even mulled the idea of shooting an email to my best friend of some 25 years (she keeps me as sane as possible), but thought better of it. She's dealing with grief right now over the loss of her uncle, and I know how she feels. My mom died in January. The 19th. I could tell you the time, the smell of the air that night, and the sounds of the sobbing coming from my entire family, which gathered at her bedside to bid her goodbye one final time.
I know this season will be difficult -- I cried discussing Thanksgiving with my neighbor yesterday. I love Thanksgiving!! I can only give you this one example to help you understand my LOVE for this holiday. I name my turkeys and take pictures of them each year. But this year, I am dreading it. Not because I'm moving at the end of the month, because I can't stand walking in to my sister's home and not seeing my mother there. Not discussing my culinary feat or the deep brown color of my gravy and hearing her praise and encouragement. My turkey dinner masterpiece will have a bittersweet taste. Equally upsetting will be that my dad will be there, battling Alzheimer's as he is, without her, his true love.
So back to the Christmas music, which is what started me on this. I thought an innocent "A Charlie Brown Christmas" would be safe. What a colossal mistake that was! Within thirty seconds of the first song I was thinking back to my childhood (crying my eyes out mind you) watching the CBS Special after my Christmas play was over. Needless to say, I didn't get many dishes done.
I really do enjoy Holiday music, during the Holiday Season, and I WILL get through a holiday song without shedding a tear (I just hope it's soon). I have to.
2nd Song, More Tears
Well this is going to be much more difficult than I thought.
I don't know what I was thinking -- my sister listens to Christmas music all year round! I got in the car to go with her to my best friend Karen's uncle's viewing and was bombarded by a song from "A Muppet's Christmas Carol". Ugh. The Muppets defined my childhood! I didn't even get a chance to finish telling her about my issue with the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" earlier in the day when I started crying about it. She said something to me then that gave me pause. She said, "This is mom's best Christmas ever, that's how I see it." And she's so very right. Mom is at peace, without cancer, without pain.
Last Christmas, we all came together to spend one last Christmas as a family. We sat around the living room and former dining room (it had been equipped with a hospital bed for mom). Food was placed on the table and we ate and chatted and enjoyed the day with her. That memory is precious. Her happy smiling face (when believe me, we wouldn't have blamed her if she were upset and crying) made the day amazing. She had her whole family by her, and that was all she ever wanted.
Can I Do This?
Being in my 30s, I grew up with all the Christmas specials: "Year Without A Santa Claus", "Santa Claus is Coming To Town", "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", and of course "A Charlie Brown Christmas." And to this day I have a deep rooted love for Christmas movies and specials. Not being resigned to the fact yet that I will cry thoughout this whole season, I thought there would be no way "Elf" would make me cry. And for a large part of the movie I was okay, even laughing. Until Zooey Deschanel started to sing "Santa Claus is Coming To Town", and then all hell broke loose. And the crazy thing is, I really have no real connection between that movie and my mother! Yet, I was caught completely off guard when she started to sing, and I cried and cried.
This entire year, I gave not a thought about Christmas. I mourned her. I mourned not seeing her, not that I saw her enough while she was alive. I mourned not being able to just call her up and ask her some stupid question about old TV shows, or just to tell her one of her favorites was on TV. But not once, did I think about Christmas, how weird is that? Is it that I was not able to conceive of a Christmas without her? And if that's correct, what makes me think I am ready now? I think I just ran out of time and now I have 45 days to accept there are no more Christmases with mom and embrace Christmases with the rest of my family. Can that happen? I don't know.
Throughout this emotional time for me, I have also been going through something else: possible eviction. Suffice it to say, I asked my landlord to provide heat that is included in our rent and received a notice to quit. So, since the middle of October, my husband and I and our 2 cats looked for, found, and moved into our new home. I have had much to distract my mind from remembering my mom isn't here anymore. Of course, I had those moments through the process when I wanted to pick up the phone and update her on our apartment search, or to ask a question about water usage. Little things, that when they hit you don't seem little at all. They seem monumental and tragic. For the most part though, I kept my composure.
In that time as well, the house I called "Home" for almost 20 years, and the house in which my mother died, was sold. Two nights before closing, my two sisters and I sat on the carpet where she died, ate Chinese food and watched Super 8 videos our father took throughout the years. It was a mostly happy time for us -- we had closure, but afterwards, I came home and collapsed in tears.
And on Thanksgiving, how I had come to dread that day, I cried and cried. I did not go to my sister's house either. I was exhausted from cleaning, packing and making car trips to the new place all week.
But now I'm here in my new home with the cats, and still trying to get through this holiday season. I still haven't put up the tree. My husband, just as he does every year, keeps putting it off, and instead of fighting him as I always do, I'm letting it go. Yule is 11 days away and I'm not feeling jolly. I miss my mom.
Mom's 70th Birthday
I would be remiss if I didn't share my feelings today. I spent the day running errands (grocery shopping and a quick trip to Lowe's) trying to keep busy. I caught up with one of my best friends over tacos (SWEET!!) and watched some college basketball at the bar across the street from our new place. But now I'm home reflecting on what would have been my mother's 72nd birthday.
If she were here today, and cancer never usurped her body, I imagine she'd be busy today, sculpting Treeples™ or Celtic jewelry, or perhaps even knitting some Winter gear for her children or grandchildren. Or she'd be making ravioli for Christmas. She'd graciously listen to her children and grandchildren sing "Happy Birthday" and serve the ice cream cake during her "Coffee and Cake" event.
Even on her birthday, it was never about her. It was about every other being in the house before her. The con summate 'mother'. It was only out of tradition I'm sure that she accepted the first piece of cake.
My mom loved me -- I know that -- and I'll spend the rest of my life knowing that if she were alive today, she'd still be loving the hell out of me. I just wish she was alive.
I am hurting. I miss my mother so very much, and believe me, if I hadn't skipped the holiday season last year, there's no way the tree would be going up tomorrow. But Rory hasn't gotten to experience a Christmas tree yet. I got him on June 2, 2009. My cat of 13 years, Wyrd, died a few days before, and our other cat Phoebe took the loss hard, so we got her a friend. But, late in 2009, upset about my mother's quickly failing health, I decided not to celebrate the season. So now I have no choice. My kitten will have a Yule.
But I can't help but feel utterly miserable. My mother is gone, my father's Alzheimer's has practically stolen him from us, I have no job and no money with which to buy my husband even one small gift. The tree will go up, but will be empty. I know presents are not important, but I would like to have at least something under the tree for him, to thank him for sticking with me through thick and thin.
This year, I'll have many more emotionally significant ornaments on the tree. When we had to go through our parents' things in July while my sisters and I were preparing to sell our childhood home, we divided up the ornaments which used to adorn the tree when we were growing up. For years after we "flew the roost" if you will, my mother would request our presence to place on the tree a beautiful icicle shaped magenta ornament signifying ourselves. Like her children, there were 4 like ornaments. Over time, one broke. It was ironic, because my brother had become like a ghost since he married. This magenta ornament is now in my possession, and for the first year since 1979, it won't be on a tree at 90 Welles St.
Well, I did it. I got the tree up finally, with 8 days until Yule. I couldn't put it off any longer, but it was difficult. I mean, the usual pain in the butt stuff like getting all the lights to work and making sure the tree is anchored and safely away from the TV. All the while I kept glancing at the box of ornaments I inherited from my parents' house. For a moment, I had "A Christmas Story" on in the background, but when I couldn't see through the tears to place the garland, I had to turn it off.
I decorated the tree today in silence, thinking of the ornaments my mother loved on her tree, All the while I cried when I thought of putting the special magenta icicle ornament on at the end. And when I had added every other ornament I could (and I won't lie, because I procrastinated about the magenta ornament, I used even ornaments I have never used or even considered!), I relented and finally added the special ornament to the front of the tree.
That ornament symbolized for me today being alone. I know it's not the way to think, but it's the first year that magenta ornament won't have its two other counterparts to compliment it. You'll see it about two-thirds up the tree on the left. Looking at it, the ornament just seems lonely.
A Glutton For Punishment
I must be a glutton for punishment. No, really I'm determined to go through this holiday season as my mom would want me. I'm failing miserably. But I won't give up.
There was a Christmas social yesterday at my father's nursing home. My sister Amy and I got there a little late, and found my dad asleep on his bed -- his TV blaring "I Dream of Jeannie". We woke him up and he was happy to see us. The social was crowded and loud, and my father in the beginning was a bit cranky, but when we mentioned "chocolate" and "cake" he perked right up and started singing the Christmas carols. For a man with moderate Alzheimer's, he did pretty well singing the right words (more than I knew!). But I could see pain in his eyes, though he's long since forgotten my mom died. It's a blessing really, as for months after she died, my father remembered. Remembered, and cried every time we saw him. He'd tell us several times each visit, that he was very sad, for his wife died. He didn't know how she died, but he knew his love was gone.
He wasn't there when she died. During the first week of December, when my mother was going downhill at a pretty good rate, my dad became too much for my sisters and mom to take care of. He'd been forgetting where the bathroom was, and kept relieving himself in his closet and tried to go in the living room. We had to put him in a nursing home so he would be safe, but also so my mother could enjoy her last days without the stress of seeing the man she loved losing control over his life.
So we sat at the social enjoying my father's company. Christmas carols were being sung by a choir, and my dad and sister enjoyed a dance together, to "O Holy Night". It was incredibly difficult to watch, and I had to keep clearing my throat to keep the tears at bay. When we said goodbye, though, I just couldn't keep them in, but my dad didn't see them. It was the whole situation really. My mother is gone, and although like my sister said, it will be her best Christmas in years, it is proving to be my worst.
Just Days Away
Yule has come and gone and Christmas is just days away and I am afraid I'll spend Christmas crying at my sister's house. With each passing hour, I feel the weight of everything that's happened over the last year bearing down on me. I lost my job because my performance suffered in the months before and immediately following my mother's death, and after I'd been (almost) evicted, our car has stopped running, so we are reduced to walking for groceries and he has to beg for rides to and from work. Not having parents who are around to support me emotionally makes me feel like I am walking a tightrope without the safety net. I do have a wonderful support network of family and friends, and I wouldn't have made it this far without them, but I still have that huge void my mother and father filled. I need help. I feel like Job having lost so much in such a short time. I wonder if a wager has been made about me.
It's important to focus on positivity, I learned that from my former neighbor and good friend Cindy. Focusing on the negatives enhances the negative energy surrounding you. So, what do I have that is good in my life? I have two wonderful cats that constantly give me joy and happiness. When I cry, my little Rory seems to know I need love and is more than happy to oblige. I have a strong faith that will not be shaken for anything. I have a great place to live that is thankfully close to stores. And again, my family and friends are the perhaps the greatest thing in my life right now. So thank you to all my friends and family, and I'm sorry to be a burden at this point in my life.
Silent Night, Sad Night
Christmas Eve is here. In my family, it was the day we put the tree up, and had our traditional fish dinner. We also began preparations for dinner on Christmas Day -- cleaning and boiling mushrooms and potatoes and anything else still needed to be done.
My dad's job was to bring the tree in, set it up straight in the stand (straight being the operative word), and put on all the lights and garland. And yes, sometimes I did hear some "festive" words, but usually it wasn't English he was speaking, but some form of gibberish. There were these really old lights we had. The one set had white flowers around red lights and the other had green flowers around white lights. They looked so beautiful.
And then the calvary came in to decorate the tree. On in the background was any Christmas themed show we could find. We loaded the tree with almost every single ornament known to Maddens, and they all held many memories. My brother had made a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" ornament which consisted of some green yarn, some tin foil and a twig. But it was tradition that it went on the tree each year. And of course the magenta icicle ornaments were placed by each of the four children. Through the eyes of an adult looking back, each year was the most perfect year ever.
A note on nostalgia: everything seems like it was always perfect when you look back. However, there was one Christmas Eve, when we had first moved here from Queens, New York, that I don't look on happily. My mother won the lottery, and thought she won a lot of money, so she told my father she was leaving and went out the door. She came back a little while later, when she realized she hadn't won millions, but something like hundreds. She was stressed I'm sure, having four children and not a lot of money. I'm trying to understand why she did it, but I was so young and she was willing to just leave us, to leave me, a three year old. But we forgave her ages ago, and laugh about it now. Nevertheless, I don't look on that night with nostalgia.
But my mom busted her butt every other Christmas to make it special. She also busted her butt making dinner the next day. No lie, we needed at least a 30 pound turkey each year (most of the time it was bigger), since my aunt, uncle and four boy cousins who lived next door in our double-block home, shared the day with us. It was tradition that each year, my Aunt Angie would host either Thanksgiving at her house and Christmas would be at ours, and the next year it would be reversed. It didn't matter though -- we were one family and that's how it always was.
Going Through the Motions
Now that I'm home, all of the emotions are flooding out. I am absolutely numb. The day was taxing, but I'm glad I went. It's what mom would have wanted. Early in the morning, my sisters and I went to wish my father a merry Christmas at the nursing home. He, being the only male in the Alzheimer's ward, has a private room. He was opening some gifts from the angels from Hospice of the Sacred Heart and did not have a happy look on his face. He became angry when Amy tried to take the wrapping paper (Alzheimer's patients develop hoarding tendencies, and my father is no different) to throw away. He wanted to keep it for the children. He then spoke of "the little girl, Angela" how he wanted to give her the presents. Amy asked how old she was and he said "She's 7." Amy believes tidbits like these give insight into where in their memories Alzheimer's patients might be. She thinks he was thinking back to the year when I was 7 years old. Who knows? I'm just happy he still has the memories that I have.
After the visit. I went over to Lisa's house to help with the last minute preparations before dinner. I assisted in the making of a delicious white cake with raspberry jam and vanilla icing in the middle. It was the making of a masterpiece. It will have to be tweaked a bit, but it will be legendary. Anyway, she made a sort of different dinner than we would have had if my mother had been alive. I don't think that was her reasoning, but I'm glad nonetheless. Dinner was ham and scalloped potatoes, asparagus and green beans almondine. There was one dish that we've had in our family every holiday: mushrooms. I'm sure they will always be a staple for dinner, why I have no idea. The smell of the mushrooms itself almost pushed me to tears. It smelled just like mom's. I kept my cool, because I knew if I started, Lisa would start, that's just how she is. So I quickly turned my attention to a different smell, that of Snickerdoodles!
We sat down to dinner and it was delicious. I even tried one asparagus. Vile stems usually, but today they weren't so bad. I think it was more or less just a vessel for olive oil and garlic. Eh, either way, it tasted alright. I got to face my sister's wedding pictures so I had something nice to look at when I wasn't talking to anyone.
I turned at some point after dinner and noticed the tree in the corner. Instantly, I remembered the ornaments we each received in July from our parent's house and teared up. I started shaking a bit as I walked around the tree, almost entranced by it. Someone caught my attention and I composed myself again and went back into the kitchen.
And when Lisa and I pulled out of her driveway on the way to my apartment, we passed our old house across the street. Walking into our house were two complete strangers. It was surreal, and too much for me to handle. I burst out crying for a minute or two, which sucked because she had to keep herself together to drive. But she did alright. I pulled it together after a minute and we changed the subject -- to what I have no idea. I don't really remember the rest of the ride, which is why I got worried I was going to have a panic attack. I have been doing breathing exercises and a few minutes ago I watched a funny TV show episode on Netflix. I still feel some anxiety, but I'm sure as the night wears on, it will get easier. I gave myself all the time I needed to just weep as soon as I got home. It's tiring believe it or not! I couldn't cry anymore after about 10 minutes so I jumped on the computer to upload these feelings to you. Of course, now I'm crying, but I can't expect to not cry on Christmas for her. She is my mother, and I miss her greatly. I miss her wisdom and her laughter. And her voice and determination to live. This was a dark Christmas.