surviving my first christmas without mom

2018 will forever be burned in my memory as the year we lost mom too soon. Stuck in the sterile environment of a ghost town ICU. Absorbed by sorrow, disbelief, and horror. Mom slipped away in the wee morning hours mere minutes after the machines turned off. Spencer and Ian made it just in time to say their goodbyes. We each held her hand and told her how much we loved her. And then, just like that, she was gone.

Typing these words over five months after that dreadful day still makes my chest tighten and stomach turn. I'm glad this first holiday season is over. One less first to face in the future.
It wasn't the big, regular activities of Christmas that caused me to weep or lose my composure. Grief rushed upon me in unsuspecting moments. Like when I put up my Christmas decorations and perused the Christmas books for sale at Walmart. I've worn waterproof mascara nearly every day since mom died and with good reason. I learned very quickly that you never know when grief will come upon you. 

This year I received tickets from my work to attend the New Mexico Philharmonic Holiday Pops Concert the Saturday before Christmas. I didn't expect to sob throughout their beautiful performance or be flooded with childhood memories. But I did. They were both tears of joy and sadness.

As tears escaped down my cheeks, I thought about all of the time my mom spent taking me to North Everett Youth Choir practices and concerts. Seeing her smiling face in the audience cheering me on at every performance gave me confidence. One year she made me a denim wrap skirt last minute to wear in a school talent show. She supported me singing in my middle school and high school choirs anxious to share my gift with others. Those are just some of the memories that flooded my mind that night. 

Christmas Day itself was fine. I was too exhausted and focused on my kids to think much about missing mom. Plus, it's been several years since I have been with my parents and siblings to celebrate Christmas on the actual day of December 25. 

The day after Christmas was brutal. I finally slowed down enough to really feel the loss and the incredible stress of the last five months. It wasn't pretty. I didn't collapse and stay in bed all day but I wanted to. I spent the day agitated and unable to make simple everyday decisions. My entire body ached, including my soul. 

When I look back on the first Christmas without mom, I want to remember that I didn't stop living. That I did my best to remember the reason for the season. And despite intense demands and stress at work, coupled with grief and challenging family dynamics, I still tried to make Christmas special for my family. 

We didn't have elaborate holiday meals, send Christmas cards, or watch every holiday movie classic. But we did go out and try some new holiday traditions as husband and wife. I wrapped presents with the same care and attention to detail as mom used to do. We made Dale's favorite spritz cookies and mom's pull apart. We bought our very first Christmas tree together and attended the tree lighting in Old Town.

I didn't get to tuck my kids in on Christmas Eve but we got to spend Christmas Day with them. We ate reindeer donuts, put together countless legos and racetracks, and ran out of AA batteries. It was the best day we could hope for with the two boys we love the most. 

I didn't try to replace or be my mom this Christmas, although it was tempting. Instead, I focused on keeping her memory alive and identifying the traditions that mattered to me and my family. I will never be able to do everything my mom did and that's ok. She wouldn't want that anyway. 

Mom brought the magic of Christmas alive for me and my siblings. Her journey as a wife and mother was very different from my own. I'm slowly beginning to understand that and not hold myself to the same standard. She taught me what it truly means to love and be loved. And isn't that what Christmas is really all about? 

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