I have this picture of what Christmas should look like in my head.
My Christmas Fantasy
In this picture, my husband has driven me and our five kids to my parents’ house. We park in the driveway where my dad has just cleared off two feet of fresh snow. The house is lit up brightly and a twinkling Christmas tree welcomes us from its prominent spot in the front window of the house.
As we near the door with our hands full of gifts, food, puzzles, and games, my mom opens the door and the steaming warmth of the house combined with the delicious smells of her kitchen spill out to greet us.
We stomp the snow off our boots and step in the door, piling in one after another, calling “Merry Christmas” to each other and talking about the most recent snowfall.
I take off my jacket and turn to hug my mom. She’s here! She’s with me! She finally gets to be a grandma in my little Christmas fantasy.
I follow her to the kitchen while the kids, my husband, and my dad go downstairs to the room where we will open presents later on.
My mom and I work together in the kitchen. She trusts me to tell me what to do and I gladly help out. I fill her in on what’s new with the kids and I confide in her the struggles I’m having as a parent and as a wife.
My mom listens thoughtfully and she always has a tiny nugget of wisdom to share that will encourage me. We talk about how I was as a teenager and how she thought she had it tough with me. We both laugh. She realizes too that raising me was so much easier than the job I have been dealt. Parenting in the twenty-first century has unique challenges my mother is glad she never had to encounter.
I’m so glad I can talk to my mom. I’m glad that we have such a strong relationship despite the problems we went through when I was a teenager. My mom has become my best friend. She’s always a phone call away. She doesn’t always have answers, but she listens and she cares. She encourages me and she prays for me. She assures me that I am not a failure.
In my fantasy, my mom is my safe place, my confidante.
That’s what I want Christmas to look like, especially at the end of a year like 2020. But my Christmas did not look like that.
This is what my Christmas 2020 looked like.
I visited my mom’s grave two weeks before Christmas. I replaced the fake, plastic flowers I had bought for the cement vase beside her tombstone earlier that summer. The wind had blown them out but not far enough away for them to be lost. I opened my mouth to talk to her but I realized she wasn’t here. She wouldn’t hear me. There was no way to tell her how I had struggled without her again that year.
I drove past the house she had died in 24 and a half years ago. My dad had sold it and moved long ago. Hardly any snow had fallen that year and the driveway was bare.
I visited my dad in a nursing home. I had to sign papers assuring them that I understood their rules and I promised to abide by them as long as I was in their building. I couldn’t hug my dad or touch him. I wore a mask and sanitized my hands. Twice. My dad was alone in a sterile room, behind two sets of locked doors. He hardly recognized me because the mask covered half my face. My children couldn’t visit their grandpa, even at Christmas. My husband was also not allowed to enter the building.
Christmas without my mom has always been disappointing. I survived them one at a time with hardly a tear.
But Christmas 2020 was even more disappointing.
This is the time in my blog post where I transition to telling you that God is still my rock. God has a plan even in this. And although I know this to be true, sometimes I simply have to allow myself to be sad.
And so, I came home and cried. I pulled out one of the very few items I have from my mom. It’s a soft, flannel quilt she made with her own two hands and her sewing machine.
I wrapped myself up in the quilt and lay on my bed in the dark and cried. I cried for myself as I thought about past Christmases without her.
I cried for the young, naive 20-year-old me who celebrated her last Christmas with her mom, not realizing it would be their last together.
I cried for the numb 21-year-old me who struggled through her first Christmas without her mom while everyone around her celebrated Christmas as if life was normal.
I remembered the nervous 26-year-old me who had a new baby (and another on the way) as her first Christmas as a mom. How I longed to speak to my mom and share with her the struggles that year had brought, including multiple bouts of painful mastitis.
I remembered the overwhelmed 30-year-old once-again-pregnant me who was exhausted from taking care of two busy toddlers, and who’d suffered two miscarriages and had been displaced by a house fire that year.
32-year-old me was sick on Christmas day in 2007. That year had been especially difficult with the birth of my only daughter after a difficult pregnancy I thought I lost multiples times. Postpartum depression hit me hard that summer and fantasies of killing myself had trigged me to reach out for the help I desperately needed. Thus began my exploration of my own grief which was unexpectedly cut short by my seventh pregnancy.
I cried for the distraught 33-year-old me on Christmas 2008. I had just brought my fifth baby home from the hospital after spending three weeks in the NICU. An unplanned pregnancy which ended with a stressful, high-risk entrance into the world. Depression threatened to swallow me again. I survived that without my mom.
Year after year, I have gone through a personal tragedy of some sort. Every Christmas, I am reminded that I have survived another year without a mother to celebrate – or share – it with.
2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year.
Aside from the lockdowns we have all dealt with, I have struggled with having my children at home more than usual while distance learning. Our source of income, my husband’s business, has been shuttered to customers since March. I got to deal with new parenting struggles with my teenagers and the placement of my dad in a nursing home due to dementia. Headaches and stress plague me, zapping me of energy.
Christmas 2020 has come and gone. I am still here, aware that I have survived another year, motherless.
There are good things that happened this year, too. God has been with me and I thank Him for His presence in my life.
But sometimes, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry.
We’re not made of steel. We are broken, fragile, hurting human beings.
I am not made of steel. I am broken. I am fragile. I am hurting.
Even so, God is with me.
As I thought about this, I realized that I needed to add more. How can I complain about my horrible year and then say, “God is with me?” Here are a few of the good things that happened this year:
- I started Bible School this fall. I never thought this would be possible. I love it!
- I wrote the first draft of my Motherless devotional this November. After last year’s miserable failed attempt, I saw how much work I still had to do, personally, before I could say anything helpful to another motherless woman.
- I had many great uninterrupted talks with my Dad this year. Priceless.
- God has met our financial needs despite our source of income being “locked down.”
- My immediate family has remained healthy during this time. God has kept us safe.
- I’ve spent more time in Bible Study this year and as a result, I have experienced the unexplainable peace only God provides. Also priceless.
- My marriage is doing well. I know the pandemic hasn’t been easy for many relationships.
2020 has been a tough year for everyone. No matter what you’ve gone through, I pray that you can find at least one good thing that happened over the last 12 months.