Heading into the holidays and the year anniversary of my mother’s passing has been full of intense longing, and a lot of tears. If I’m being honest, I had been full of anger until recently; when people would say that Bonbon is looking down on us, especially at this time of year, I immediately think, “Well, I wish she was HERE with us instead!” It’s not fair, I feel, because I am just a girl who wants her mom: I want to hug her and for her to hold my hand; I want to hear her giggle as she listens to the kids sing carols and see their festive outfits; I want to gift her something special and have her taste my treats, made with love just like she taught me; and, I want her eyes to light up with love and joy on Christmas Day as she watches her grandbabies excitedly open gifts and play with their new toys. Lily Rose and Oliver were her greatest joy, and it doesn’t feel like Christmas without her here to enjoy them.
It’s the big and small moments this season that send me into sadness: from hearing, “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” over the radio when I start the car to decorating and baking without being able to share these things with her. Even seeing “Mom” on my Christmas card list and not being able to give her one, or her spotting her handwriting on an old gift bag tag, makes my heart break all over again. It’s not just that I don’t have a loved one here this holiday, when you are meant to be with the ones you love; it is also that this loved one left us at this time of year, so everything feels a little less joyful. I just don’t want this special time shrouded in such sadness, because that’s not what my mother would have wanted for us all.
Last Christmas Eve is still a bit of a blur: my dad came to stay with us the night before so we spent the day preparing for the big day and took the kids tobogganing. As evening came, I remember us all growing concerned when no one could get a hold of her; then my brother called my dad with the devastating news. I wish for my brother’s sake, I could erase the sound of my and my father’s screams. And I wish my kids hadn’t had to see me in shock, saying over and over, “But I didn’t talk to her today!” Once the horrible shock wore off, we talked to the kids and cried together, called family, hugged and held one another tight. Then once Lily Rose and Oliver were in bed, we did something I am proud of: we set about the difficult task of putting the Santa presents out, stuffing the stockings with toys and treats, and making sure the cookies set out for Santa were eaten and the reindeer food sprinkled outside was gone. We did what parents and grandparents do: we kept going even though it was hard, and we brought the magic! That took strength, and somehow, I feel like Bonbon gave us that strength to go on, if even just to give her grandkids, and us, the Christmas she would have dreamed of.
I have the best memories of the best Christmases that started with decorating the tree as a family, then excitedly opening chocolate advent calendars each morning, spending afternoons baking and decorating cookies, snuggling at night on the couch watching holiday movies, and reading books before bed about Santa, reindeer, elves, and the Nutcracker. Even as I grew up and understood Santa was in fact my parents and other family gifting us and creating the magic, it didn’t diminish how special and sweet the holidays were: the amount of presents and food and Christmas fun, the extra hugs and kisses and so many laughs, the way Bonbon decorated the house so beautifully, and made it so cozy and warm with her presence. My dad, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and friends, helped so much too, in making these beautiful Christmas memories; it truly takes a Christmas village (get it!? 😉 to instill and maintain holiday love, joy, and magic!
Decorating the tree this year was a difficult experience: the placing of ornaments on the tree, from the hand-made ones from childhood to the gorgeous ones of hers she’d passed down, was full of longing. When I opened a box of my mother’s Christmas decorations I didn’t even know I had, I expected it to come with the same longing, but it came instead with a sense of clarity: just when I needed it most, I had found her gorgeous angel to light my way through and give me comfort; the delicate crystal reindeer I remember admiring as a child, full of wonder at the most wonderful time of the year; and, the beautiful white and gold Santa to remind me how magical she made each and every Christmas for my brother and I! I’ve added these pieces to our treasured family ceramic Christmas tree, that I loved as a child, just as my kids do now. I remember putting each plastic play bulb in, just as they do now. These decorations will mix in with the ones Jon and I have bought or been gifted over the years, mixing old memories with precious new ones.
My dear friend Cathy, who is stronger, more resilient, and braver than any momma I know, recently reminded me that the holiday magic my mother gave us is the gift that is still here, and now it is mine to give to my kids. I am the Keeper of Christmas Magic now! That magic isn’t gifts, but the love and joy surrounding Christmas. It is the act of giving; the smiles on people’s faces; the activities that build excitement; the beautiful lights and decorations, but also the memories they evoke; and the joy of being with our loved ones, laughing and hugging, and holding one another close.
So like my mother before me, I need the help of family to keep that magic alive. Jon creates videos of Santa speaking to Lily Rose and Oliver each year, making their eyes light up with wonder; he lives to watch holiday movies and snuggle with the kids on the couch nightly, cocoa in hand; and, he is far better at wrapping, and even decorating cookies, than me (Auntie Sharon and Bonbon would be proud!). Then there is Lily Rose and Oliver’s daycare mom who does the Elf on the Shelf better than anyone, decorates so much, and plans theme days, crafts, and activities to build holiday excitement at their home away from home. Their big-kid Uncle Brett sends them daily videos of him opening his Star Wars advent calendar (the love of which is a gift from Bonbon), saying “I love you” each time, so the kids wake each morning excited to open the ones he bought for them, and say I Love You back. Aunts Sharon and Heather still spoil the kids rotten with hugs and gifts, just as they did for me and Brett; Aunt Michele does the same, choosing special presents for each lucky kid, and sharing the Winter Wonderland come to life that is her home, with us all when we visit. My cousin Tarren and I now do gingerbread houses with the kids each year, creating new memories to look back on and laugh at. But it is my dad who started filling our hearts with holiday magic even before Bonbon left us; when Mom could no longer do much Christmas shopping, it was my dad who assumed the role of Santa, pouring so much of his time and effort into making sure we all got just what we dreamed of, complete with individual stockings for even us big kids. For all of these Keepers of Christmas Magic past and present, and those friends, teachers, and more family I haven’t mentioned but who still help immensely, I am so thankful; the pain of losing Bonbon at Christmas hurts a lot less because of what each and every one of you do to fill my and my kids’ hearts with holiday love.
For the rest of this Christmas season, instead of focusing on the anger and unfairness of my mom not being with us, I choose to see the beauty of her being with us instead in spirit, forever. Our angel, our Bonbon, is with us still: she is with me in each gorgeous decoration I place around the house, in each cookie I bake for loved ones, in each holiday hug I give or cackle of laughter I make, just like she did. She is in every holiday story I read the kids before bed, and every movie Jon and I watch as a family. She is even cursing the damn Elf on the Shelf each night along with us, cause she would have HATED that new tradition, LOL;) My mom will be there as I tuck her grandbabies in on Christmas Even and kiss them goodnight. The next morning as Lily Rose and Oliver tiptoe down the stairs to see what Santa brought them, Bonbon will be watching over us all, somewhere magical where she is free from pain, maybe even dancing. But her eyes will still be aglow as she watches us, with all the love and joy she gave us. That’s the magic I believe in and will continue to keep alive this Christmas, and every one to come: that a big man in a red suit, riding a sleigh pulled by reindeer, delivers toys made by elves, to all the children on Earth; that, and the belief that the people we love so dearly, but lost too soon, remain with us, in spirit and forever alive in our memories and in our hearts. That’s the true and lasting magic my mother gifted us.