Family Photo: 1988
Photo credit: Louise Traska

 

As February comes to an end, I think to myself, I survived. I survived the three-month period affectionately known as the holidays. For most Americans, November through January are a merry time of reuniting with family and friends. However, for many people like me, these three months are filled with a sad nostalgia. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the celebration of both my parent’s birthdays in January, unlock a vault of memories and the reconciliation of how different our lives are from the future we had envisioned. Families plan Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas songs croon comforting lyrics about being home with your family for Christmas.  Yet all the while, a sadness that I’m typically able to hide away the majority of the year, is unlocking inside.

This past holiday season was the eleventh since my mom passed away from complications of breast cancer. When November comes, I can’t help but drown in memories of the family I once had. My mind fills with memories of our traditional holiday festivities including decorating the Christmas tree to the voices of Johnny Mathis and Brenda Lee, and watching Christmas movies by the light of the Christmas tree together. Some of my favorite Christmas memories of my mom were of her donning her festive Santa cap, and whispering with a secretive smile… “Santa’s coming!”

My sister and I do our best to keep up with those comforting and familiar traditions. However, with my sister in California, and my father in Florida, we don’t always  see each other for the holidays. Yet even when we celebrate the holidays together in person, the sense of my mom’s absence fills the air between us. I wish more than anything, she could be celebrating the holidays with us. I imagine her enthusiastically celebrating her role as a grandmother to her grandchildren, just as she had looked forward to doing. During these holidays I can picture how she would be spoiling her grandchildren with affection and hand-made gifts, like she had done for my sister and I.

I am so thankful for the cherished time that we did spend together, but every year that I get older, is another year added to the vault of time I have lived without her.  Each holiday, milestone, and special occasion passes by with the awareness that she is not here with us. The older I get, the more I realize how young my mom was when she passed away. I also realize how early in our lives my sister and I lost the guidance of our mom. As I visit my relatives and friends, I reflect on the way that my mom’s death changed the course of all our lives individually, and as a family. As I struggle to juggle work, decorating, holiday shopping and preparation for Christmas dinner, I am filled with a renewed appreciation and admiration of how my mom completed it all.  I am also more observant all the little things that my mom did to make the holidays special and I vow to replicate those for my own family in her memory.

I ride the roller coaster of emotions from November to February, as my thoughts dance between uncontrollable tears, and smiles of reverie while I miss my mom. I struggle to push away the holidays blues and to focus on all that is good in my life. However, I realize perhaps it’s OK to feel nostalgic and sad during the holidays. It confirms that I appreciate my mom and our time spent together as a family.

Now it is February, and I breathe a sigh of relief that I have made it through these family holiday months. With the veil of sadness lifted, I am able to see more clearly how truly lucky I am to not only have felt the unconditional love from my parents that I experienced in my childhood, but to feel the love and inclusion of all the people in my life who invite me into their families. I feel thankful for all the friends and family who always reach out to ensure I have a place to spend holidays dinners. I feel joyful as I celebrate the excitement of experiencing Christmas though the eyes of my nephews and step-children. My sister, father and I continue to stay in touch and I am thankful that no matter how many miles separate us, we still remain involved in each other’s lives. I focus on enjoying the first of every holiday I celebrate with my boyfriend and stepchildren in our own house.

Then, I think of my mom singing Christmas songs while wearing her Santa cap. This brings a smile to my face, reminding me to relish the happy memories; the ones spent with her, and the ones I’m creating with my new family.

Reindeer Antlers: 2003 Photo credit: Louise Traska

 

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