thought that grief was supposed to lessen over time. I could swear I missed my
mom more this past holiday season than previous Christmases. Despite having an
overall holly jolly time, I hit a rough patch the last week or so before
Christmas. I felt like I crammed a lot of riotous, rollicking activities into
the time between mid-November and mid-December.
Once I found myself past the flurry of events, I realized I had cleared
a wide, fresh pathway to feeling sad. One day, I got it into my head to go to a
mall and the Christmas Tree decoration store my mother and I frequented several
times. I would normally never consider
going shopping so close to Christmas, but I had a few errands that I thought I
could knock out quickly. Of course, I
didn’t knock them out quickly. It was a
bit of a hard slog made even harder because of my mother’s absence.
many happy memories of my mother associated with Christmas. Most people would say that they love
Christmas. Why else do songsters keep belting
out “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?” To my mother, though, Christmas
was an art form. It wasn’t like she was
one of those crazy Christmas light folks on television, but there was something
intensely special about the way she threw herself into the season. There are so
many holiday moments that she engraved permanently into my brain with
love. It makes me so happy that I have
these memories. Without a doubt, those
memories enrich my experience of Christmas, even since her death. There is also a sadness tied up in those
memories that breaks through every year at the holidays.
year since I can remember, my mother used to take me Christmas shopping on a
special day. She did the same for my
brother. Ostensibly, the trip was for
each of us to buy a Christmas present for the other sibling. In truth, there was another agenda that I did
not perceive until well into my teen years.
My mom would take us on these outings to buy a present for our sibling…
and so she could see what delighted the kid on the shopping expedition with
her. She explained to someone once that she would watch what caught my eye and
what I “oohed and awed over” as I wandered the stores looking for a present for
my brother. I was never very good at
telling anyone what I wanted, so she would watch my reaction to items in the
store for ideas about what might enchant me on Christmas morning. She always
shopping day with my mother continued until the December before her stroke. As she aged and became frailer, we had to
adapt what we did and for how long, but we always had a wonderful time. We’d look at Christmas decorations, listen to
Christmas music, buy stuff we didn’t need, and revel in being together. This shared annual experience was so much a
part of who we were together, I even tried to arrange a special transport to
take her to the tiny mall in our town that last December of her life. Unfortunately, before I could get the authorization
and organize everything, she started to let go of her hold on her “regular” world
and began to head down her journey towards the next life.
shopping trip right before Christmas this past holiday screamed “mom” at
me. It just felt so much like something
she should have shared with me, as she had so many other pre-Christmas shopping
trips. Suddenly, I missed her with a
physical fierce coldness that seemed to simultaneously freeze my respiratory
system and melt my digestive system. My
knees wobbled alarmingly. For a few
moments, my brain seemed to spin around inside my skull and I thought I might
faint. I was standing in a depressingly
long line at JC Penney’s. I grabbed a
shelf on one side of the line and waited for the feeling to pass. The intensity of the pain did pass, but left
some emotional havoc in its wake.
once told me that one key to managing depression is to HALT. Don’t get too Hungry, Angry,
Lonely, or Tired.
I realized that I was all four of these “halts.” I couldn’t do much
about being hungry or tired while standing in line, unless I called out for
pizza and a sleeping bag. I don’t think
I’ll ever stop being lonely for my momma.
I could, however, choose to stop feeling angry and frustrated with the
massive line at Penney’s. I used the
rest of my time standing in line observing the shoppers around me and the
clerks at the cash registers. For the
most part, the shoppers were pretty disgruntled and the sales clerks were
serene and polite. I decided I would try
to flip the script. When it was my turn
to pay, I made a special effort to be pleasant and grateful.
transacted my business at Penney’s and moved on to Macy’s. Some weeks ago, I bought a wonderfully warm,
fluffy robe at Macy’s. The weather
finally cooled off enough by the middle of December for me to wear it to water
aerobics class. That is when I
discovered that the Macy’s sales associate had neglected to remove the security
tag. Macy’s is about 40 miles from my
house, so I originally decided to just live with a grey plastic device flopping
at the side of my robe. When people
started looking at me funny at the pool, clearly wondering if I had embarked on
a life of crime, I thought better of that tactic. That was my motivation for going to the mall
less than a week before Christmas. I
brought the robe to get the Macy’s people to untag me.
got to Macy’s, it seemed that people were even nastier than they were at
Penney’s. I purposely let several people
go ahead of me because they were unhinged and I thought it would be helpful for
the sales clerk if she didn’t have to balance her priorities between Miss
Christmas Crazy Person 2019 and me, who had been waiting in line ahead of her
(to say nothing of the fact that I would not have had to drive 40 miles and
stand in line at all if the first sales clerk had removed the tag in the first
place.) I smiled at the clerks
supportively and even suggested that they take care of another timebomb of a
shopper before they waited on me. I
found it strangely serene and comforting to engage in these small acts of
kindness. I said a little prayer to
thank God for His blessing in helping me find this little coping mechanism.
pretty proud of myself until I left the mall and realized I was still very
hungry and… lonely. I drove to a nearby
McDonald’s. McDonald’s was also a
holiday tradition in my home. For some
unknown and clearly irrational reason, I didn’t like McDonald’s hamburgers as a
child. I did, however, love the French
fries. On Christmas Eve, my mother would
fry hamburgers at home and my father would go to McDonald’s and buy French
fries. When I got older (and over my
antipathy to McDonald’s hamburgers), it was a special treat during Christmas
vacation for my brother and me to ride our bikes to McDonald’s alone and have
lunch. So, as weird as it sounds,
McDonald’s has a sentimental attraction for me.
McDonald’s, I found they converted to a customer-driven electronic ordering
system. I stared at the huge monitor and
began pushing buttons, trying to follow the directions. Something about the electronic ordering
system baffled me. I kept getting to a
place in the process that thwarted me.
I felt more and more defeated as I kept trying. I felt confused and despondent. After trying several times, I surrendered. I still had enough of my wits about me to
know that I should not get back in the car and drive without something to eat. I went up and tried to explain my dilemma to
the nice young lady at the counter. For
some reason, I was also having trouble finding words to explain what was
wrong. I kept apologizing. She never skipped a beat or appeared
impatient. She was sincerely kind. Ultimately, we completed the ordering
process. I took my number and went off
to find a table, embarrassed at the fuss I was making. Once I sat down, I even started to cry softly
and discreetly. Another employee, who was cleaning up around the lobby, came
over to ask if I was okay and if she could do anything for me.
I ate my lunch and nourished my psyche with some perspective, I thought about
how thankful I was for the kindness of the McDonald’s employees. A fast food restaurant is about the last
place one would expect workers to rise above the madness and inject a little
humanity into the day. Fast food restaurants
are loud, crowded, and thrive on doing things quickly and efficiently. These McDonald’s employees were not only
efficient using their hands and heads, they went a step further and used their
wanted to do something to thank them. They
deserved it. Plus, I had been reminded
by my experiences at the department stores that it makes me feel better to do
something nice for someone else. I went over to the lobby employee, thanked
her, and gave her a hug. I also thanked
the lady at the counter. They were both
over the moon. I also told the manager how grateful I was to both the
employees. I told her that being nice is
a superpower. People don’t always
realize how much difference it can make to just be nice.
my mother was shrinking through her last year of life, I often found myself
being the kind of person I didn’t want to be. I was impatient, snappish, and
cranky all too frequently. I felt like I
was losing the best parts of me- the gentleness, the peace, the playfulness,
the affection. I was ashamed. I blamed myself… and I also blamed the grief.
I believed the mourning was destroying
the me I had always been.
last year or so, I rejoice because I feel some of those shinier sides of me returning. I notice myself behaving as I would have
behaved years ago. It makes me so happy.
I also notice that, like on my pre-Christmas shopping day, I am finding
more tiny ways to nurture happiness in the world.
me… and maybe for everybody… mourning is not a linear process. There is no forward or backward. There is ebb and flow. There are zigs and zags. There are swirls and spirals. Mourning gains and loses momentum, depending
on external circumstances and internal conditions… like hunger, anger,
loneliness, and tiredness. The most
important thing, though, is that mourning does not have to destroy. Mourning can also create.
consider the shot of grief that often accompanies my memories of my mother to
be the “price of admission” to being able to re-experience the happy times with
her. I think it is worth it to have the
odd meltdown now and then in order to access the sweet memories. What do you think? Is it worth being sad sometimes over the death
of a loved one to also remember the joyful times and connections? Please share your perspective by leaving a
comment. In the alternative, you can
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
sweetly memorable day!