Monday, December 22, 2008

Missing Mom

It is Christmas time, my favorite time of the year. Usually the joy of the season, the festive atmosphere, and the true meaning of Christmas is something I drink in and relish with every fiber of my being. But this year, I am without one of my most precious gifts, my Mother. She was always the center of our family celebrations radiating her own special child-like wonder and excitement. When she died suddenly this past Spring, I did not realize how my grief would flow like a slow moving river through birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and now, here it is Christmas.

Mom was most excited when there was a present under the tree with her name on it. She was never good at waiting for surprises. She was known to unwrap, take a peek, and wrap again, a prized Christmas gift. Whether it was a wrapped box or even her daughter's belly, she wanted to know the surprise inside. When I was pregnant with our first born, my husband and I decided to wait until the birth to find out the sex of our baby. Mom, or Nana as she would soon be called, could not believe we would not, could not, find out. I think she felt us completely obligated to provide her this information. I remember in exasperation her saying to me, "Everyone finds out what they are having, I don't know anyone who does not know if it is a girl or a boy." Mom loved to spoil a surprise, but maybe it was more about controlling what life hands you next.

My Mom grew up among very dire economic realities. Only now am I learning just how harsh her childhood upbringing must have been on her. Sometimes they had very little food, heat, and clothing to satisfy. My Father only recently told me a story about why she always loved her electric blanket. Dad said as a small child Mom used to huddle together in bed with my Grandmother for warmth. They lived in a small, paper-thin house (if you could call it a house) in her Aunt's backyard. They eventually moved into the "big house" when the Aunts died. My Mom's Father had passed away when she was only three years old. I remember as a child on visits to my Grandmother's house seeing that small little shack in the backyard. I always thought it was an old playhouse. I use to look in the windows and could only see dirty old wall paper. I am glad someone finally tore that little house down.

During this past Thanksgiving holiday my Dad asked me to help clean out Mom's closets. I was willing to help him with this, and I wanted to help with this, but I was not prepared for the emotional toll it would take on me. As I went through her closets full of clothes, I felt like I was trespassing. Each outfit told a story of her life journey. The fancy gowns she wore when she gave birth to my brother at Vanderbilt Hospital in 1974, the dress she wore at my Christmas wedding (red her favorite color), the floral dress from Easter 1992, her everyday outfits, and her famous flannel pj's. The only thing missing was the beautiful pink dress I bought her to wear for my brother's wedding. It was not in the closet. We chose to bury her in that pink dress.

As each day grows closer to Christmas, I am enjoying the excitement my three boys are building. I am wrapping gifts, playing songs, and moving through the motions of pending celebration, but ever so often my heart cries out in loss and I can hardly explain the triggers. One afternoon last week as I idled in the drive-through line at a fast food restaurant the song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" came over the air. The words moved me to sing and suddenly the tears were flowing. I realized how much Mom loved that song and would sing it, off key, whenever the chance. I also realized I would be home for Christmas this year without her smile, her love, and her childlike curiosity. I do not think you ever grow too old to need your mother's love and I know something will be missing this year. But you know, I do still feel her love and only hope I can share her gentle spirit and wide-eyed wonder with my boys. I want them to know their Nana was pure joy on earth. Oh, how we will miss her.