Before my mother died, but when she was very sick, I was dropping my son off at day care. When we arrived there was another little boy who had just been dropped off by his mom. He couldn’t have been more than three years old.
And he was wailing.
“I want my mom!!!!! I want my mom to come back!!!!”
He was completely and totally inconsolable. His tears weren’t the feigned kind put on for a show, protesting the drop off; the kind which dry up 10 seconds after you walk out the door. No, this child was genuinely distressed. He wanted his mom very, very badly.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more in tune with another person’s emotion.
Because at that time, I could already see what was coming.
My mom had terminal cancer, and like this little boy, I could imagine a world where my mom wasn’t coming back.
I could clearly see myself in this child; sobbing for my own mother, wanting her to return to me, and feeling very small in a world that suddenly felt like it was going to swallow me up.
I understood this boy because, like him, on a primal level I knew the panic of needing someone who was vanishing before my eyes.
My mom has been gone for over three years now.
I’ve gone through a lot of firsts without her. I’ve survived a time that did not seem at all survivable.
I’ve had two more children. Children who will never know what the holiday season feels like with my mom in it.
They don’t know how the house used to smell, with my mom cooking her turkey or preparing her special holiday crescent rolls with sausage. They’ve never had her holiday punch with the rainbow sherbet.
They haven’t ever opened a stocking stuffed to the brim with treasures from grandma, or seen how she could host an enormous number of guests in a way that made it seem so easy, and joyful. They don’t know how amazing she was at creating a sense of “home.”
When the holidays roll around, I feel the absence of my mother acutely.
If you’ve lost a parent, I bet you do too.
Sometimes, the absence feels like a dullness. Things that were once bright and exciting, like putting up the Christmas decorations, feel muffled. I can’t quite enjoy them they way I’d like to.
Other times, the pain of missing my mother feels so intense that I can’t look straight at it. It’s like the sun, that way. I can look around it, but if I stare straight at it I would injure myself beyond repair.
So I don’t quite look.
But I muddle through, the way we all do with our longings. The way you have to do when a person you love deeply isn’t there to fill their place at the holiday table.
For these past three years, it’s been a challenge to carry on with tradition.
If a tradition is inextricably linked to a person who is gone, how can it ever feel right again?
For me, it hasn’t felt right. I don’t know if that changes. Perhaps it does, in time.
To me, the holidays were my mom. She wasn’t just a player in the holiday scene; she created the magic that made the holidays feel like home.
My mother loved Christmas. She had a collection of Santas that she kept on display year-round at her house. I keep this little Santa hanging on the wall by our front door, year round too. It makes me happy. It reminds me of her.
I have a young family, like many of you do. I have kids who need to enjoy their holidays, and who will grow up with their own special memories; memories that I will have a huge part in creating.
And so I try to enjoy myself, for them, and for me.
This year, we are doing something different for Thanksgiving. My Dad and sister and I will be going with our families to my aunt’s house. There will be a whole house full of aunts and uncles and cousins, and I’m looking forward to it. After dinner at my aunt’s, we’re going to take a trip with cousins from the other side of the family, up to North Conway.
This isn’t how we’ve spent the holiday in the past, but it feels right this year. It’s not tradition, yet. Perhaps it’s tradition in the making. It takes time to know.
My aunt has just become a new foster mother, and her young foster son will be spending his first holiday with our family. I don’t know what he’s been through, but I can guess that like me, he will be feeling the acute pain of missing his mother this year.
There are a lot of people who know this feeling.
If you’re missing your special person this holiday season, please know this.
It’s okay to feel dulled out. It’s okay to feel an ache. It’s okay to know that to look straight at the sun will be too much for you, and sometimes you just have to look away. You’ll look up again when you’re ready.
And when you’re ready you can think about what kinds of traditions you want going forward. You can decide when the time is right to begin them.
And if you feel like that little boy at the day care, crying for his mom – I understand you.
I am you.
A lot of us are.
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