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.