On Thanksgiving Day, I was picking the turkey in the kitchen while our gracious host washed dishes. I was full of good food and was enjoying an Irish coffee while watching my baby boy flirt with our hostess and hearing my husband laugh from the other room. My host’s question startled me out of my turkey daze and my mind scrambled to answer, “Are the holidays difficult without your parents?”
You’d think that would be easy to answer if for no other reason than it’s a yes or no question that people have been asking me for 15 years; yet in just saying yes, I’m afraid of coming off as a self-pitying woman ungrateful for the family she has now, wishing for the family she had years ago. I picture the question-asker imagining me crying as we set up our Christmas tree, fingering ornaments that remind me of days gone by. Crying tears into the dough as I make my mother’s favorite Christmas cookies. Calling my siblings to recall wonderful Christmases from our childhood.
But if I say no, I’ll look like a jerk—a person who is callous about her parents being dead. Who, when people ask where her parents are, answers, “They’re six feet under.” Who has actually formed a club called the SFU club for friends who have also lost both parents. Who jokes with her sister about putting the fun in funeral.
Actually, those things are all true, except I am not callous.
In that moment, like in many moments, I mumbled a clumsy, confused answer. Something about how the holidays aren’t difficult, but of course they are, but not really.
I guess I don’t know what I’m missing. Do I miss Christmas with my parents? Well, yes, but only in the same way you miss your Christmas with your parents when you were 20. You see, that’s the only kind of Christmas I know with my parents. I don’t know what it would be like if my parents were alive and we spent Christmas with them. I never had a grownup relationship with them.
When my parents died, my mother and I hadn’t even had very many grown-up conversations yet.
I do remember one we had that last Christmas break together. I told her I was beginning to feel like myself again—after an adolescence of trying to figure out who I was and forgetting what it was like to be the carefree, free-spirited Blythe of my childhood, I was finally remembering. Mother seemed to understand. She uncharacteristically hugged me and told me she was so glad. I was affirmed in that moment and knew that she knew exactly what I was trying to communicate to her.
That Christmas, my crazy sister stole my makeup when she went out of town for a weekend, and Mother played peacemaker. My little sister and I watched “Little Women” a million times while eating microwave popcorn, listening to Mother sew or type in her office off the family room. My oldest sister–pregnant with her first baby–was visiting from the east coast, and we stayed up late talking and watching tv and playing cards, often with Mother. Mother baked all her traditional treats and decorated elaborately with two trees and garlands and ribbon everywhere. Every Christmas detail was perfect. I can hear her laugh on Christmas morning while we opened gifts.
When I think of my mother, I miss her. She was spectacular.
When I had my babies, it was tough to be motherless. I’ve watched my friends’ mothers step in for them, coming out to stay for weeks or bringing meals if they’re already in town, spoiling the babies, babysitting the older children, cleaning houses, reassuring their daughters about their abilities to be mothers themselves. I could list 783 reasons life would be better, easier, more lovely, funner, more complicated if I had my mamma. It would be so worth whatever relational drama might come with it. I would love a home to go home to. An example of motherhood, a keeper of memories, a champion of my children, a soft place to land. Having my mother around would tell me where I come from and who I am. She could answer my sewing questions, help me make Christmas mints, spoil my children, adore my husband, teach me how to be a woman.
Sometimes a motherless woman flails around, unsure of what she is doing, depending on substitutes to guide her.
And yet, I still maintain that all is not lost. I don’t know exactly what I’m missing. I do know what I will gain in Heaven, though, and what I know is just a fraction of the joy of that relationship reunited and restored. As a Christian, I believe that there are far worse things than death. Death is the end of a season. It’s not easy, it’s not painless. But it opens the door for us to be one step closer to having the relationships God designed the way He intended—when I see my mamma again, our relationship will be perfectly perfect. It won’t be tainted by selfishness, self-doubt, bitterness, anger. It will be full of pursuit, joy, laughter, intention, unashamed love. Thinking about that eases the missyness a bit. Quite a bit, actually.
I have hope that I will see my mother again, that our relationship will be amazing. But my hope does not rest there. It rests in a God who lovingly designed relationships to be eternal. A God who created the role of mamma and knows how precious her love for her children is and who treasures the child’s desperation for her mother. A God who does not leave us in despair but walks the sadness with us—who sent His own son to earth so that His other children would not be alone. Immanuel, God with us. My hope is in a God who bridged every gap to hold my hand and cradle my heart.
Are the holidays hard without my parents? Is a motherless Christmas heartbreaking? Well, yes, but it’s not overwhelming. What is overwhelming is the hope I have in Immanuel, the promise of a love never broken.