Mom loved Christmas. As a kid, I remember her being on the floor, handing out the presents that were under the tree. Dad would be sitting in a chair, with the movie camera (the old 8mm kind with the big-ass floodlights) or the regular film camera as we got a bit older. But, Mom, Little Mama, always down on the floor, in the thick of it all and loving every minute of it. Bows in her hair, a huge smile on her face. She embodied the Christmas spirit.
It was last year at this time that I finally broke down and cried over my mom’s condition. 21 months after her diagnosis of the pulmonary arterial hypertension. 21 months I went with shedding a tear. I lost it. My folks and I were celebrating Christmas with my sister’s family at her house. It was not Christmas day but a day close to Christmas. I had come from work so Mom and Dad were already at my sister’s, the boys helping Grams up the stairs and carrying her concentrator (the machine that produces oxygen) into the house. I arrived an hour or so later and we had a fun time, watching my sister’s grandchildren open presents. Then it was the adults’ turn and we laughed and laughed as we did our “white elephant” exchange. As the night wore on, Mom got tired so it was time to take her home. I followed my folks the few miles home. I put the concentrator back into the house and helped get Mom settled. Then I went back to my sister’s…and broke down. I sobbed like I hadn’t sobbed since…well, I don’t remember. My sister, wrapped me in her arms to comfort me as only a big sister can, feeling the same pain as I was. We melded into one – daughters who knew they were losing their mom.
I know why I didn’t cry for 21 months. I lived with Mom and Dad. I had to be strong for Mom – and for Dad. When my mom crumbled into tears because she could no longer drive and go out on her own, when she lost the freedom, when she asked “why did this happen to me”, when she felt like she didn’t want to go on…I was the one who tried to be positive. To remind her that she could still go out, just with one of us. She could still be with her family. She could watch her little great-grandchildren play, grow and discover all that they could do. Gigi would light up around them. She so loved the little ones. I’d remind her that she still had all of us and all those happy times to look forward to – together.
So for 21 months I didn’t cry. Not even when I would talk to my friends. I’d be sad, but matter of fact. But, never once did I shed a tear. Not one single tear. Until one year ago on that night. The floodgates opened and I’ve been crying on and off ever since. Through those final months. And through these first months of grief. It sucks.
I have to admit that while I wish each and every one of you a wonderful holiday season and the happiest of Christmases, my heart just isn’t into it. Dad and I barely decorated the house, but did so as we both knew that Mom would have wanted us to. It just doesn’t seem like Christmas without my little angel of a mom. Without her bright spirit. Her warm smile. Her heart of gold. I’ve cried so much over these past few days thinking of her – and how much she loved this time of year. You know, I remember her telling me a long time ago (I think I was in college), that she loved to go out shopping on Christmas Eve. Even if she didn’t need to buy any more gifts. She simply loved being out in the hustle and bustle of it all, in the spirit of the season. She didn’t mind the crowds which Dad hated. She’d go out on her own and wander about the mall in her own turtle way. That was just Mom.
As much as my heart aches this Christmas for my mom, I do know she is in a better place. In fact, I was reminded of that today as I was out walking on a warm December day. I saw 3 yellow butterflies. First one, then another, then the third. It was Mom. She was telling me that while she understands the sadness in my heart, she is okay. She is free. And this is what she wanted – to be free of being tethered to the oxygen. To be free to go where she wants and when she wants. Mom knows that, of all people, her free-spirited daughter truly understands this. And I do. So, even though I’m crying now as I write this, I’m also smiling as I know that Little Mama is free. Merry Christmas, Mom! I love you.