It was two days before Thanksgiving and I was standing in a store, looking at wrapping paper when the overhead music began to play Burl Ivesâ€™s â€œHave a Holly Jolly Christmasâ€. A knot formed in my stomach and a lump rose in my throat. Within seconds I was in tears.
This was my motherâ€™s favorite Christmas song and hearing it cracked open a part of me that is usually folded neatly and put away like fine linen.
The surprise of grief is that it sneaks up and taps you on the shoulder unaware. I was having a great shopping day full of joy when one song brought me to the doorstep of sorrow.
Momâ€™s been gone twenty years, but my heart knows no time limits. Though the sting of the loss is gone, the ache remains, especially at the holidays.
When she died, I felt immediately on deck, orphaned. I was adrift with no compass. Who would tell me how to raise a teenager? Who would be there when I lost a job, a man, my youth?
Who would put their arms around me and say, â€œEverything will be okayâ€ even when I knew it might not?
Losing a mother makes you take a big step forward and grow up. Your crone is gone, there are no bread crumbs to follow and you must find your way on your own.
When sorting through momâ€™s precious few things after her death, one of my sisters requested the family turkey platter that had been used year after year. It wasnâ€™t Dresden or Royal Daulton, it was a tacky metal platter with a painted turkey on it. But it was momâ€™s turkey platter and we all looked on longingly as Suzie picked it up and held it in her arms.
The first Thanksgiving without mom we were like actors in a stage play with a bad review. We walked through our steps, but it was wooden, we were faking. â€œWho were we kidding?â€ we thought-this will never be the same again without her.
But we kept rehearsing year after year, and each year weâ€™ve done a little better. My five siblings and I have worked hard at holding on to each other and not losing our connection, and weâ€™ve learned to be â€œmothers to each otherâ€, in a sense.
I now rarely cry for her loss, but I miss sharing the joys. Each time there is a new achievement from a child or grandchild I wish mom was here to see it.
Casting out a line from the pontoon and listening to loons on the lake makes my siblings and I say â€œWouldnâ€™t she just love this?â€
At the holidays itâ€™s good to remember those that arenâ€™t with us, but itâ€™s also good to pull closer those who are.
Grief whispers in our ear â€œPull away, donâ€™t talk about it, hunker down and tough it outâ€. Truth is, our connections to others can dilute and soften the pain.
The very thing we find difficult-connecting with others when we are feeling sad is the antidote to our suffering.
The older I get the more I see that nothing is permanent, that loss is for sure.
When all we have left are turkey platters and memories, all we can do is keep reaching out and holding on.