Old Memories…New Traditions

The song starts off with: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” For many of you it is…the joys of Christmas with family and friends. Buying presents for loved ones. Holiday dinners and toasting for a new year filled with excitement. We see ads with happy faces and smiling families around the Christmas table. Old and young alike. It’s picture perfect.

Not for everyone though.

For many it emphasizes loss. What used to be and what will never be again.

And it hurts. A lot. This first holiday with missing loved ones is extremely painful. Grief hurts. Especially now. It’s no longer that most wonderful time of the year.

But we are still expected to function even as we are bombarded with reminders of what should be a happy time. All we can remember is what was, and is no more. All we have left of them are memories, and they aren’t here to make any more with us.

But Christmas comes whether you want it to or not. Maybe you don’t want to face it, but others around you who can’t totally understand your feelings are still filled with anticipation of the season. As much as you don’t feel joyous, you don’t want to spoil their happiness. But your happiness is so long gone…

While I can’t make it better, and I can’t make the hurt stop, I can give you some ideas of things we did that helped, as well as ideas from other friends.

A few years after Ashley was born, my mother had a friend knit Christmas stockings for each of us, including one for her that said “Grandmom”. The first Christmas without her, I couldn’t not hang it up; it just didn’t feel right. So hers was, and still is, in the middle of our stocking display, with a spray of red silk roses in it, her favorite flower. The Willow tree angel holding the rose on our mantle was the last one I’d given her on Mother’s Day, and stands watch over our stockings. This is the ninth Christmas without her, and that stocking is filled every year with those roses. I’m sure she’d approve.

That first year we marked a gift for each of us “From Mom” or “From Grandmom.” The funny thing is, I did it for Ben and Ashley, and didn’t tell them in advance what I was doing. Ben also did it for me without letting on to Ashley. We even gave her dog a gift and told her it was from my mom! (No, I’m sure she didn’t understand, but it made us feel better, since she had always bought Angel a Christmas toy or two!)

When I was packing up her house I had found several Christmas cards she’d bought and probably forgot where she’d put them, so I signed her name and gave them to Ben and Ashley that first year; one read “For my wonderful Granddaughter…” I think Ashley still has it.

We had also brought the Christmas ornaments home she’d used on the little tree in front of her fireplace. Ashley and I divided them up and used them on our trees. This year she proudly hung the one we gave them for expecting their first baby beside the last ornament she had given my mother…that said “Best Grandmother”. Several of my friends use their mother’s ornaments on their trees as well, and one friend actually uses all her mom’s ornaments on a tree dedicated to her mother. Another friend has taken several small collectibles that belonged to her mother and used them for Christmas ornaments.

Some people put framed pictures of their loved ones on the holiday tMemory Photoable as a way of still having them join the family. I tried it for two minutes; it was too painful, but it may not be for others. In a similar fashion, others elect to display a picture of their loved one near their tree or other place of honor, with Christmas décor around it, and sometimes even a small wrapped box as a memorial gift.

Other families have also taken special items that belonged to their loved one, and given them as Christmas gifts to family members that first year, including a note about why the item was chosen for them. One friend gave a mixing bowl to her mother’s sister, with a note telling her how she remembered watching her mom make her sister’s favorite recipe in that bowl, and she wanted her to have it as a remembrance. What she hadn’t known, was that bowl had originally been given to her mother by that sister, as a birthday gift.

I have also talked to families who would write a brief letter to their loved one every year, tie it to a helium balloon, and release it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as their gift to them.

Another family I know, whose mother was dying of cancer, recorded her reading “The Night Before Christmas” before she passed away, so that she could still continue her tradition of reading it to her grandchildren every year.

I have also h51oDJOG76fLeard of families asking friends and relatives to write a handwritten note with a memory of their loved one at the holiday season, along with a picture if they have one, and bring it to the holiday dinner. The notes are collected and placed in a basket to be read privately during the evening, or they can be read aloud for all to hear; personally I would handle it privately, as my voice still sometimes chokes when I talk about my mother, and it’s been nine years. The notes can later be made into a scrapbook or other memory book, which can be displayed each year as another special remembrance.

Many people advise grieving families to start entirely new traditions that will help ease the sadness, rather than try to do what you would normally have done when your loved one was still here. But that decision is entirely yours; there is no right or wrong way to survive holiday grief. However you choose to handle it is the right way for you, and it should be your decision.

I know it’s hard. But one thing I kept telling myself that first year, is that my mother would not have wanted us to mourn her, or be sad in any way. She would not have wanted us to do anything different just because she wasn’t around. So we chose to remember her and honor her in ways that fit her unique personality and character. And I truly believe she would have been pleased…except for the times I cried for her privately.

This year, however, will be a bit different. Because this year we will have our first grandchild, our granddaughter Rachel, who is named after my mother, celebrating with us. I cannot help but wish my mother were still here with us to see her great granddaughter, her namesake. I know how excited, and how proud she would be of her. But I also know she is celebrating Christmas in a way I can never imagine, and I know she is also watching us from heaven during those special moments the Lord allows. I know she is smiling and excited, and so very happy to see that her beloved granddaughter Ashley now has a daughter of her own.

However, the joy of our granddaughter still does not take away all of the pain of missing my mother. Because the loss is still there.

I’m sorry, Mom, but I’ll always miss you….Missing Mom Christmas

It’s Not About the Presents…It’s About the Presence

I have to admit this year I’ve put off shopping for Christmas gifts until the week before the big day. Usually by then I’m almost done, all of them are wrapped, and placed under the tree.

Not this year, though.

Yes, the house is decorated, the stockings are hung, and the cookies have been baked. Plans are made for the Christmas Eve church service with the family, followed by our traditional Christmas Eve dinner afterwards. The Christmas Day dinner menu is planned.

But the presents? Let’s just say until last night the only things under the tree were the tree skirts and an occasional sleeping cat.
Snowball Tree
There are now a few gifts under there. And a few more to be wrapped, but that’s it. Like the majority of our friends, our gift giving has been cut back. Not only our list of who we’re giving gifts to, but the types of gifts we’re giving. Instead of just going out and buying things for the sake of buying, just to get the shopping done…and not really thinking about what we’re doing, we’re getting gifts that person needs, and maybe one that’s just a little bit for fun. The gifts may not be glamorous, but they’re something that will be put to very good use.

In past years we shopped and shopped, having to get “just one more thing” because we felt like we had to….and not even really thinking about what we were doing. In some instances, we felt like we were expected to give gifts, instead of giving them because we wanted to give out of the love in our hearts. Then we’d spend hours wrapping boxes and putting items in those wonderful gift bags, which are actually one of the best inventions ever! We piled gifts under the tree for everyone. You could barely see the base of the tree, and Ashley had to crawl under there as she “played Santa Claus” to pull them all out. We opened and opened, and hardly remembered what we’d received after it was all over.

And yes, it was fun, but looking back now, it was also a bit much. A bit extravagant. Instead of celebrating the real reason for the season, we celebrated the commercial element of Christmas by shopping the sales and seeing how much money we could save as we spent.

We concentrated on the presents under the tree, rather than the presence of the meaning of Christmas…the presence of our Lord and Savior in our hearts. If it weren’t for the birth of Jesus, there wouldn’t be Christmas, would there?

This year, we have made the decision to concentrate more on the presence of the spirit of Christmas, rather than the presents that have become the main focus for the season. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give gifts to our loved ones, but we need to be sure what we give is something from our hearts, and not from ads on tv and in the newspaper that tell us we need to buy really extravagant purchases right now while they’re on sale.

Not all presents need to have been bought at a store. The greatest gift the world has known certainly didn’t come from a store, but straight from God.

IMG_5774Our daughter and son-in-law are giving us the most wonderful present we could have, even though she won’t be arriving until next year, and she certainly won’t be gift-wrapped. Our granddaughter Rachel Marie will be worth far more than any gift that could ever be wrapped up under the tree.

We have some very dear friends who started a special Christmas tradition right after they were married. Instead of exchanging gifts, they write each other a special letter, and exchange them on Christmas morning. I have no idea what the letters say, because they’re personal, but knowing these friends, they re-proclaim the love they have for each other, and tell each other why they are thankful for another year together. And they give thanks to the Lord for bringing them together and keeping them together. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I admire them greatly for doing it.

Is the presence of Christmas in your hearts and in your home this season, or just the presents? If not, take a few minutes to relax, and breathe, and step away from the busy-ness of the holiday season and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. And make your gifts to your loved ones special ones from your heart to show them how much they mean to you.

It’s not about the presents under the tree…but the present in the manger over 2,000 years ago…and the presence of love and the presence of our Lord in our lives and in our hearts.