Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remembering and Making Memories at Christmas

 Just a year ago . . .
my beautiful sister, pictured above, drove my Mother downtown to join our twig of the family tree--myself, Mom's oldest daughter, with Paul, her son-in-law; our four children, her grandchildren, and all their partners, and our two little granddaughters, her two great-grands -- in the lovely Stanley Park Fish House for a leisurely Brunch in beautiful surroundings. It was a delightful few hours with much attention lavished on wee Harriet, only a few weeks old and seen here in a four-generations-of-women photo. It amazes me, when I think of it, that I remember my own Grandmother, my Mom's Mom, so clearly, with her beginning in the 19th century and it's very likely that Harriet will spend some time in the 22nd. Wow, eh?


















When the photo was taken, Mom was still walking 10-15 kilometres a day, sometimes more. Her spirits were good, while her memory was poor, although she still knew us all and could easily hold up her end of a conversation, as long as we just went along with some frequent loops over the same territory. The photo doesn't show that Mom was guarding a secret Christmas gift, one she'd only shared with two of my sisters and only because of her problems with memory. She'd decided, all on her own and against a lifetime as a rather constrained gift-giver, against various cognitive challenges, that she wanted to get each of her daughters a silver bracelet like one that she generally wore and which we'd admired.

So she got my sister Rachel to help her with the project: although she herself went in and chatted with the jeweler, made the choice, counted the numbers, added my sisters-in-law into the order, she needed help with the payment (she'd lost her credit card, forgotten her pin number, one too many times, and finally surrendered that particular independence). With Rachel, she paid for, picked up, and safely stashed the bracelets in her condo, ready to be given out on Christmas Day.

Except, of course, that just as some of us sometimes do, even before the cognitive ravages of old age set in, she forgot where her safe stash might be . . . Had she left them with my sister? Or did Another Very Helpful Daughter have them hidden at her place? Had they been stolen? I wasn't privy to all these concerns, not yet aware of the Gift to Come, but Rachel and Other Daughter/Sister fielded many calls before Christmas Eve finally arrived and the bracelets were given, and received, with joy.

I didn't get mine until a few weeks after Christmas, a day when my other sister, M, drove Mom out to visit her "Beautiful Baby," Harriet. I've written about this already, here, and about how soon after opening that gift, enjoying that visit, we learned that Mom's cancer was on the prowl again, voraciously so. Little more than three months after the photo above, she was gone.  We're all still grieving, but I know that at Christmas Eve, when most of the family gather at yet another sister's house, as they have every year for at least two decades, they will remember The Bracelets. They may even take another photos of all "the girls" wearing theirs, thinking of Mom. We won't be there, as our family twig is big enough that we need our own space, but I'll be remembering as well, and wondering at her inspiration, sending herself forward in so many ways. Babies, bracelets, smiles, tears, the music she taught us to love, the books she set us reading. . . .

Today, I'll be at the funeral of my sister's father-in-law. A sudden death, just before Christmas, of a man who lived a full 93 years, active right until the end. The tears that surprise me today, given that I hardly knew the deceased, will gather up the year's losses (my mother, my father-in-law, family closeness on my husband's side). For so many of us, I would guess, Christmas joys are shadowed by memories of those who no longer share those joys with us. May the rich memories, the undernote of loss, inspire us to focus, this season, on what really matters. While I love the bracelet Mom gave me, I haven't yet received it in the photo above; the true gift I see there is the time we had together, and I'm so glad we took those hours in the very busy weeks leading up to Christmas.

So as I sit through a funeral service today, deviating seriously from my Flirtation with Festive of the last week or two, I'll be grateful for an excuse to sit with the Season's Counterpart, the Sad Realities that make the Festive brighter. Festive can become frantic and empty, I believe, without an awareness and acceptance of loss and sadness in our midst. But lucky me. . . I'll stop, perhaps, on the way home and see if I can get a hug from a granddaughter. Or walk 'round the park with my husband, holding hands, remembering . . .

Are you balancing joy with loss, Festive with Sad, this season? How are you managing that balance? Perhaps that's too much question to respond to in comments, but know, at least, that others are with you in that struggle, that despite the shiny and the sparkly, sometimes others have to put the almost-bought gifts home on the store counter and rush their tears to the nearest bathroom for a wipe-up as well.  . . .Take care.


25 comments:

  1. Loss always seems to hit me when I set the dining table for the family Christmas feast. We used to be 17 all crammed into our wee bungalow and with those who have passed on, and one who suffers from dementia/Alzheimer's and is too confused to be included we are down to 10. Not to mention two who have become estranged and refuse to mend the fences so there is sadness and loss and it is felt much more profoundly at this time of year.
    I cannot help bug think how fortunate you all were to have had that lovely gathering before your mom passed on and those bracelets are such a wonderful gift. Imagine her thinking this surprise up and getting it done when she was not well....thinking not of herself, but her beloved daughters.
    I'm going to hold you in my thoughts today.

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    1. That is such a sharp visual, the Christmas table with the family around it, and the numbers winking out as the years move along. Still, all those meals together, the happy times, those still echo in that room, don't they, even though there are sad notes mingled within. . . . and yes, I do feel so grateful for that wonderful meal in Stanley Park, the family gathered, and I treasure my bracelet and the memories . . . thanks for thinking of me. Take care, yourself. . .

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  2. *sniff*

    I am aiming for happy this year. A settling in of the new family and the old. Wish me luck?

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    1. Indeed I will. . . the Beatles were so sure that all we need is love, but I do believe a bit of luck helps, as well. . . Aim for happy, a very good goal. . .

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  3. This strikes a chord with me. I find Midnight Mass, or any church service during the Christmas season really, very difficult. Good luck at the funeral.

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    1. Yes . . . for me it's my Dad's tenor voice that I hear, and miss, at once, whenever O Holy Night is sung by a congregation. . . .luckily these events usually deliver beauty to mitigate against the sadness, but still . . .

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  4. We are dealing with some unhappiness here under our roof this holiday. I know we'll get through it, but I've decided not to get into the frantic and frenetic this season--I just can't handle it. I like the concept of balancing the Festive with the Sad. We'll do what we can and let the rest fall away until another day.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. It helped me understand what I was thinking.

    Mutti Stacy

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    1. Pretending just doesn't work well for very long, does it? I admire your attitude instead, acknowledging the difficulty, the unhappiness, knowing that you'll get past it, but accepting where you are for the moment. May you look after yourself through the season, as much as you do for others . . .

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  5. This is a lovely post, Mater, one that resonates with my feelings. I like the concept of balancing the festive with the sad - both are part of life and together add richness. To ignore one is to deprive the other. The four-generation photo is priceless.

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    1. I've put some distance between my Catholic upbringing and one-time deep faith, but what I still carry and think very worthwhile is the way the Mass celebrates the dependence of the one upon the other, suffering and joy, sad and festive. And at this time of year, while the Festive tends to drown out the other notes, they still spring up and ambush us from time to time. Best, I think, to just know that they are there all along. . . but there I go, waxing a bit too philosophical. . . .

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  6. Such an evocative post. You're right - for many of us - the holidays are a bittersweet celebration. In the busyness required by the funeral of a family member we sometimes "manage" our grief but find a surprising outlet in the next we attend. The treasured memories become part of our current joys while we build new traditions with those we love. Enjoy your little one's hug or your walk around the park...

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    1. I think that's part of the season's richness, isn't it, the constant reworking of memories and joys and sorrows so that new traditions are built, evolve. . . .

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  7. Made me cry....Since the loss of my parents, Christmas just doesn't hold the same enchantment. Grandchildren, thankfully, are filling the gap but the memories and melancholy remain every Christmas season. Is this just a normal part of the aging process as we lose our parents and do we need to recognize and accept that these feelings will be a part of our Christmas now? I find the need to celebrate a few of the normal traditions but kick it up a notch and create new traditions (like your shopping and dining!) to make it fun for all! Thanks for your post! Debbie

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    1. How fresh is your loss, Debbie? I suspect this is an important part of our role as elders, transmuting this loss into some kind of wisdom -- even if the wisdom is just our own lives as testament that one can carry on after loss. I think you are wise to try to create new traditions or shake up the old into new shapes. . . . But I also think it might be okay for us to let go of the idea that Christmas has to be eternally enchanting. Perhaps we want to focus on a different season. Or perhaps to make every day our focus rather than building toward a once-a-year event. . .

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  8. It hit me today again, when I opened up a package that had come in the mail. It was for my newest granddaughter - a beautiful book and an expensive blanket from my mum and dad, her great grandparents. The gift was like nothing ever before sent to the children for Christmas. The card, beautifully written, was in my father's hand. That's what hit me - his care in purchasing, wrapping, writing - all the things that my mother once did. The cards always used to be signed 'Dad and Mum', but my dad had, of course, signed his name last - 'love, Mum and Dad'. Such a gift, all his effort and for a moment all I could feel was all that my mother has lost in the last year.
    It's back to the joy of the season now, but I am swinging back and forth.

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    1. Even second-hand, this one hits. That simple transposition of the order of their names, so very poignant. And the beautiful, sad reality that without your mother's loss, you might not get to see this tender care on your father's part. So complicated. Take care. . .

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  9. That is a sad and beautiful post which resonated with me as I had a dinner with my mother last night. We intended to go to the Blue Christmas service but she heard that afternoon that another dear friend was in hospital. Today, we are taking a poinsettia to his wife who has Alzheimer's. We are lucky to have our elders with us to see the four
    generations and we visited with the whole family on Sunday. Our tree is also large and diverse. Your bracelets will be a reminder of the love that your mother felt for her girls even when the days were growing a bit foggy.

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    1. It must be so hard for those who face loss regularly, their friends moving on, one by one. I was impressed, yesterday afternoon at the reception after the funeral, to see those aged 85+ still active, still out at funerals, still finding ways to make life matter. I'm trying to store up some of that -- sometimes it feels as if it won't be long. . . Meanwhile, let's enjoy the family we have and remember those we've lost. . .

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  10. F: That generational photo is beautiful. I hope you enjoy it often, for many years to come (even if that joy is tinged with grief). And my thoughts go out to your sister's family. A loss is SO hard (understatement) at any time, but at holidays, even more so. I've been grappling in various ways with the concept of mortality these past few months and, really, I've got nothin'. I wish I had something wise to offer up... Happily, I know many others do.

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    1. Much easier to deal with the mortality of a 93-year-old who was active until days before his death than to contend with those cut down in earlier years -- although the presiding minister wisely noted, yesterday, that we still grieve those elders we love and miss. I have to admit I fall back on the old "Make the most of the moments we have, tell your loved ones you love them" etc. etc. And try to let the joy and the grief inform each other. . . .thanks for commenting in your own time of struggle. xo

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  11. What a beautiful post. I have a tiny family, and we lost two this year. On the other hand, the young members are a wonder. Younger son was in a car wreck this morning, and it was heartening to see his visiting brother dash out door to help. Daughter-in-law, who is not well, got up to make him brownies after our hours in the hospital. All is well now (except for the car which is totaled and minor injuries) so I am thankful for the love they share and hope for the future even while we miss those who are gone.

    Lynn

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  12. Losses during the holiday season are especially poignant. We lost a best friend and a sister at this time, so I share your feelings. This is one of the awkward things about Christmas, the legislated joy. But sometimes we are not in that mood, and it's fine to give jolly-making a miss. Christmas will be back every year, these wonderful people will not.

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    1. Even in the deepest losses I've so far experienced, there are moments of solace, particularly in the drawing together of family and friends. But this is probably because in those moments, grief is allowed expression. Legislated joy, as you so trenchantly term it, is different. Pushing away grief only serves to give it more power. ...

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  13. Thanks for a beautiful post. It resonated very strongly for me-as do all the comments.
    Renie x

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    1. You're very welcome, Renie. Aren't the comments thoughtful and wise!

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