Happy New Year, dear ones. Is it too late in the year already to say that? When I was still working, I was always a little ill at ease on that first day back to school after Christmas. Everyone would hug and kiss at that first faculty meeting of the semester and wish each other a feliz año nuevo. I fumbled with the Spanish and the hugs and kisses. I am much better at wishing you happy new year across the Internet where I can type that phrase and send emoji hugs 🤗and kisses 😘.
Before we are too far into 2023, I want to take a few minutes to share and reflect on my first Christmas without my mom. I think those of you who have followed my blogging and life journey for a while know of the struggles my mom had. For those of you who are new friends, let me just share a bit so you have some background.
My mom was suicidal for more than the last decade of her life. Her first suicide attempt came in 2011 as she and my dad prepared to move from their apartment to an assisted living complex. Several years later, just after Thanksgiving, Mom attempted suicide again once more. And was about to swallow an overdose three years later when my brother happened by her apartment and stopped her. Both of these last attempts were triggered by the oncoming Christmas holidays. Mom never cared for Christmas. Sadly, she was in a mental health facility 3 different times in her later 80s and early 90s. And my sister and I made a number of holiday trips to Kentucky to try to assist my brother with our mom.
You may remember my mom died in August 2022. She was 95 years old and tired. We now believe she suffered some small strokes or TIAs in the days before her death. But it was a fall (she counted her falls for years and was well over 100 when she lost track) where she hit her head which caused cranial bleeding and swelling. Even though we knew Mom was living on borrowed time, and in many ways tired of life, her death was a terrible time for us. And my brother, sister and I moved through the end of 2022 on auto-pilot.
The First Christmas without My Mom
This was my first holiday season without my mom. It was bittersweet. I have cried and laughed and cried some more. But I survived. More than survived, actually. Let me explain.
2022 Holiday Kick Off
Did things a little differently this year and it made such a difference in my stress level. That was a very good thing.
A year ago December, my oldest daughter Brennyn gave birth to my grandson Declan. We were with her in Ft. Worth, and I was holding my breath that Mom would maintain through Christmas that year. Brennyn’s pregnancy was normal but Declan struggled to breath immediately after birth. And Brennyn had a uterine fibroid cyst that ruptured a few hours after his delivery and we almost lost her twice. I wrote this post last January with immense gratitude for the lives of my darling daughter and grandson.
This year, we wanted to be with Brennyn, Declan, Mustafa and Cadence for the baby’s first birthday 12.20.2022 and to give thanks for his health and Brennyn’s. That was the kick-off to our Christmas holidays 2022.
Not only did my mom dislike the holidays but PC doesn’t care for them much more than she did. In past years, I have tried everything to get Paul to want to help me put up the Christmas tree and the decorations outside. One year I made some snacks and opened a bottle of wine. Sadly, that didn’t make him any more enthusiastic about trimming the tree. So this year, I did it all by myself. Didn’t even approach him about helping me, just asked him to help get down the box from the high shelf in the garage. And I did everything else.
I usually try to bake cookies every Christmas. And pies for the Christmas meal. This year, it seemed everyone was trying to watch their weight. I asked Brennyn if she wanted me to bring homemade cookies when we visited for Dec’s birthday but she politely declined. PC and I are perpetually weight watching, so I decide to make only a couple of varieties, Lauren’s favorite and something new – pecan bars that Paul liked a lot. The picture below is from 2019. Lauren’s favorite cookies are the red, green and yellow balls.
The week before Christmas, Lucia and Camila spent a day with me at my house. It was great fun for me and I think for them, too. One of the things we did was bake sugar cookies and decorate them. Lauren brought the girls over and stayed long enough to help me get the cookie dough mixed and the girls started using the cookie cutters to cut them out. I love the look on Lucia’s face. She is sneaking a bite of cookie dough but hoping her mom won’t notice. Cami is getting some cookie dough to eat, too, but she didn’t even bother to sneak.
Before the cookies were baked and decorated, we had dough and icing and sprinkles all over everything in the kitchen and that was just fine. Was tickled at Lauren’s reaction when I got out the cookie cutters. She giggled and grabbed her phone to snap a picture of them for her sister. I keep them in a very old glass canister with a goose on it. She remembered the container and the cutters from her childhood.
As we were cleaning up, I asked Google to play some Christmas carols by Pentatonix. I was surprised when Lucia began singing to “Hallelujah.” Then when “Little Drummer Boy” came on, both girls were spellbound. They stopped and listened to the song. Then when I replayed it, they both chimed in for the chorus…”Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum.” When I retrieved the code to add the video on the post, I noticed this video has almost 300 million views. I bet Cia and Cam contributed at least half of those!!
Now you’ll be singing “pa rum pum pum pum” all day. You’re welcome.
As an adult, I’ve never liked listening to Christmas carols I think because my mom never liked Christmas. She was an excellent pianist and could play anything on the piano but we never heard her play. When I was in 6th grade, my class had to learn a number of carols – even one in German. And while I was terrified to sing on stage in front of the whole school and our parents, I loved it at the same time. Singing with my baby girls was so joyful.
The girls enjoyed the carols so much that Lauren added the YouTube videos to their tablets (they call their tablets ‘blah-blahs). Lucia has a very pretty singing voice and I printed off the lyrics to “Little Drummer Boy” so we could read and learn them together. Cami watched the video over and over. She is so observant that she noticed how the members of Pentatonix closed their eyes at times while they sang the lyrics. Cami started doing the same thing when she sang the carol.
Even Christmas shopping was easier this year. For as many Christmases as PC and I have been married, we have almost always gone to Ohio and Kentucky between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which is prime Christmas sales and shopping time. Never had the money and the luxury to buy presents throughout the year and save them for Christmas. This year, I started a Christmas Club account with my bank and had over $2000 in it when I began my shopping. It was so much easier to shop with money!!
Over the years, my mom was very difficult to buy gifts for. My sweet daddy always spent a lot of money buying Mom beautiful, expensive things. Year after year, though, she would return many of the things he selected for her. Sometimes she would buy something less expensive, sometimes she just returned whatever it was and didn’t replace it with something else. Some of the things would wind up tucked in a drawer or at the top of her closet.
After my father’s death in 2012, my mom took on a different personality. At least to some extent. Mom began taking more interest in her appearance, clothing, jewelry. And buying gifts for her became a joy. She was particularly fond of Alfred Dunner clothing, a line sold by JCPenney and other large department stores.
The photos below were taken on Mom’s 95th birthday, 03.21.2022, less than 5 months before her death. My sister and I bought Mom some Alfred Dunner clothes, but the gift that was the biggest hit was a denim jacket onto which we pinned several brooches. Wish my dad had been able to witness her joy at ‘fixing up,’ laying out outfits, hanging necklaces with each of her tops, selecting the right shade of lip color every day.
Looking at these photos is hard. Knowing that deep – and sometimes not so deep inside – she was in a lot of pain, emotional pain. She did all the things. Mom would bake bread, and homemade cinnamon rolls and orange rolls. Cooked the turkey, wrapped the presents, decorated the tree. But it never brought her much joy.
This year at Christmas I truly felt some joy. I would like to believe that maybe my mama was here somewhere, in the twinkling of the holiday lights, in the smiles of my beautiful grandbabies. Especially our spicy Cami Jean, her namesake. Mom never understood why she didn’t like the holidays. Had no memory of a particularly hard or disappointing Christmas. I’m sad that celebrating with our family – my dad, brother, sister and me – was not enough to bring her that joy.
Well, this post has taken me forever to finish. The more I thought about my mom at Christmas, the harder it was to write about it and eventually share here with you. Hence the happy new year message at the beginning of this post. Of course, I still wish you a happy new year, even if it is already February.
I tried to find a certain photo from a Christmas when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My sister and I had on Mom-made red velvet jumpers and white blouses and grim expressions on our faces that matched our mother’s. But I couldn’t find that photograph. Instead, I found a better one. The photo below. My second Christmas, 1960. My sister’s first. Look at that radiant smile my mom is wearing. So glad I found this photo reminder that maybe she didn’t disklike all Christmases.
Was supposed to sub today, or so I thought, but when I got to school it turned out another sub had been held over from Friday to take the class. I enjoyed my day at home. Back across the mountain to sub tomorrow. Wishing you a peaceful week. Thank you for stopping in to spend some time here with me.
P.S. After this post was published, my sister texted me with the picture I was looking for. The photo of us in our red, mama-made jumpers. This was taken a few weeks after my brother’s birth early in February. My poor mother looks so sad. She suffered with post-partum depression at this time in her life. I remember she told me that she had no reason to be so sad, had a home, loving husband, 3 healthy children but she really struggled for months after Kevin was born.
Hugs and kisses,