“Mom, I need to tell you something,” my daughter Jocelyn said when she called as I was driving home through our little town, the week before Thanksgiving. Our main street was newly lit with star-shaped Christmas lights strung from the streetlamps, awakening in me the warm glow of the festive season upon us. “I booked a flight to Florida to be at Ariel’s for Christmas. Jenna will be there, and it’s Eva’s first Christmas,” she continued. My heart sank, and immediately I began considering cancelling Christmas in our house altogether. For the first time in 37 years, none of my children would be with me, and suddenly it all felt meaningless. Why bake? Why decorate? What’s the point?
“I’m so disappointed,” I said, “but I understand, especially with Jenna being there, too. I just wish we could come down, but it wouldn’t work with your dad and Cyn there.”
“I know,” she replied. “The one thing that made this so hard is that it’s the first time I’ll be away from you for Christmas.” I knew that she wasn’t rejecting us, and that there will likely be many more holidays to come where our home won’t be the focal gathering place as our grown children marry and have families of their own, and hopefully many more where we will all celebrate together.
That night I drifted through dream scenarios infused with sadness. I recalled Christmases past, when the girls were little and life seemed so much simpler, despite all the busyness that came with parenting four young children. I remember Christmas Eves after the girls were tucked in bed, wrapping the last few gifts, hanging the stockings, and pulling all the brightly wrapped presents out of their hiding places until the pile under the tree was pushing at the lowest branches. The whole world seemed to stop. Our street was lit with paper bag luminaries, and sometimes we were even blessed with a gentle blanket of white to complete the scene.
Will it ever be that sweet and pure again? I realized I was grieving the loss of what I had hoped for and even expected, at least for a few years more. We are living in a new area, and we don’t have enough close connections here to “fill the gap.” So much of our joy in any holiday is the gathering of family and friends. I love to bake, but who would eat the cookies and the “pulla,” the braided cardamom sweet bread that I make every year for Christmas morning breakfast? Andrew wouldn’t miss it, but Jocelyn would.
All I can do for now is let the disappointment slowly give way to what we can make of a very different Christmas this year. Perhaps with less energy going into food and festivity, there will be more time to reflect and sit with the sacred foundation of this special time. As it is with bigger losses that take months and even years to grieve, I need to let the sadness pass through until new possibilities fill the space of what was once our expected future experience.