Holiday Heartache: Missing Loved Ones

The lyric “next year all our troubles will be out of sight” has always taunted me. As far back as I can recall, whenever I heard the song, I thought of a problem that I wanted to disappear into thin air by the following year.

As a kid, my problems were somewhat trivial. I had always been aware of our financial struggles, so I would wish that next year we would have the means for whatever food, vacation, or gifts we could hope for. As a teen, I relied on that song in hopes that the following year would bring me a cool job or the cutest boyfriend.

Every December, when Christmas morning finally came, most of those “troubles” hadn’t vanished, but I didn’t notice them at all on that day. Despite whatever trials our family had faced, somehow my parents managed to get gifts under the tree with my name on them. It usually wasn’t exactly what I had wished for, but it was enough to fill me with joy. The presents were just a small part of the magic, though. On Christmas day, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and my parents were all together, and that was my favorite part. Together, we shared our gratitude for each other and the thoughtful gifts (I always gave out hand-scribbled coupon books). We spent our day cooking a delicious meal and sharing laughs, while my favorite holiday tunes serenaded us late into the night. It was magic, and every Christmas night I would fall asleep completely content. On days like that, I truly believed that all in the world was well and good. I imagined that everyone had a warm place to be and family to celebrate with. In my young mind, it was easy to pretend that the whole world would set aside arguments and disagreements and come together for hot cocoa and pie. That was Christmas to me as a child.

Those times of happiness and bliss have changed. I can never go back to a time when grandparents and aunts were here, and each brought a piece of wonder to the holidays. Gone are the days of being blissfully unaware of family disagreements or separations. Most heartbreaking of all, I will never re-live another Christmas before cancer took away the one person who really brought the magic: my mom. Many pieces of my heart are missing; the special people who created that wonder and awe for me as a kid, are gone; and my troubles are a little harder to chase away during the holiday season.

My mom used to make every part of the holidays wonderful. She let us enjoy countless cookies while we haphazardly hung ornaments on our tree. In later years, I realized that she was putting our presents in Walmart layaway as early as June to get us the generic versions of what we wanted. She made the house feel cozy and bright from floor to ceiling. She cooked our favorite meals, like cinnamon rolls from scratch, so that we could even taste the holiday cheer. I miss her all year, but I am more painfully aware of her absence during the holidays. It sneaks up on me in moments that I don’t expect it to. Too many times already, I’ve been shopping for all the Christmas dinner fixin’s, when I spy a mother, daughter, and a few giggling grandkids planning the holiday menu together. It feels like a punch in the heart, and suddenly, I am standing alone in an H-E-B aisle, holding chicken stock and weeping. There are other moments when I anticipate the tears coming, like when we’re hanging my mother’s ornaments on our own little tree, or every time I realize my daughter won’t get to make many happy memories with her Mimi.

This is only my second Christmas without my mom, but I can already sense that no matter how much time passes, my heart will always be searching for a piece of home that is missing, making the most joyous occasions feel bittersweet. Even before losing my mom, there was that bit of loneliness in our holiday gatherings when my grandparents were no longer there.

The holiday season is my favorite time of year—the music, warm wishes, delicious smells, and the smiles on people’s faces, make me feel warm and fuzzy. But the whimsical feelings of this time of year do not soothe the pain of missing a family member. There are, however, magical moments that make me feel whole again. Any parent knows the wonderful joy that comes from watching your children’s faces light up with joy when they see the special decorations, fall asleep under the Christmas tree, or even spot Santa himself. When I can keep my mom a part of those moments, it feels just like those first Christmases I lived.

It is my mission to raise a daughter who worries less about what presents will be under the tree and instead craves the joy of sharing those magical moments with our loved ones. The holidays are a time to create wonderful memories with those who are here with us now and reminisce about those who made memories with us in years past. I promised my mom during her last few hours here on earth that her granddaughter (who was only three at the time) would never forget her. I promised my mom that we would celebrate her every day and tell only the best stories about dear Mimi. I’ve kept that promise. We keep my mom close, in little ways, every day. The holidays are especially full of many opportunities to celebrate Mimi’s life. I share with my daughter and friends, my favorite memories of my mom. I wear her jingle bell necklace when I’m hanging the holiday decorations, just like she did. We bake her famous cinnamon rolls together, and I share her favorite holiday songs and movies with my daughter. We carry on many of the traditions she handed down to us, and we lovingly display her ornaments on our tree. On Christmas day, we will share stories and watch home videos of the loved ones who no longer fill a chair at the dinner table. Recalling those happy memories, and being reminded of my mom all around, eases a bit of the heartache of missing her. In many ways, those loved ones who are no longer sitting at the table, will still be there with us. 

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