I was two years old.
Our dreams changed with a phone call.
Mom had breast cancer.
Christmas. That ‘magical’ time of year.
I wish I could say it has always been my favourite time of year – I’ve wanted it to be; but it hasn’t always panned out that way. The combination of losing loved ones too soon, growing up and becoming cynical, along with questioning my faith and the whole ‘Baby Jesus was born to save the world’ thing, I’ve definitely had years that felt more like going through the motions than the starry-eyed excitement we all seem to earnestly strive for leading up to December.
There is glitter all over my house. I’ve baked dozens upon dozens of cookies already. The non-stop Christmas music radio station is constantly on. I am a female Buddy the Elf and I. Am. LOVE. ING. IT. It hasn’t felt this good to be Christmas-y for years. I assume my children are the main reason for that.
My two year old is finally old enough to appreciate the decorations, and the lights, and the advent calendar her Auntie made for me before I even had kids. I am thrilled to be doing all of the Christmas themed things because I want my children to feel the same warmth and love of the season that I did as a child growing up. My mom made Christmas sparkle.
I recently got out her old recipes to make her treasured gingerbread cookies. I keep all of the recipe cards that I have the fondest memories of tucked inside of a cookbook of even more of her recipes. Some of my family and my mom’s friends put together the cookbook after she passed away as a remembrance of her.
When I opened up her cookbook the other day, I was reminded that there was more than just recipes inside. There was her story. In her own words. I had forgotten it was there. My mother, Esther, had written a short autobiography titled “A Perfect Plan” back in 1998 and it was in the back of the cookbook. The cookie dough could wait. I eagerly started to read.
Funny how as you grow up, you think that your memories serve you truth, but as I read her words, I realized I had a lot of her story wrong. Starting with the fact that she was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer right before Christmas of 1991. December 21st actually. I was two and a half years old, my brother not quite nine months.
My children are more or less the same age right now. Two years and almost six months. I am a few years younger than she was at that time, but I am in the very same stage of life. This year, right now, is my equivalent Christmas season, parallel to the one that she got diagnosed in. I was my daughter’s age when my mother received that phone call.
Had Mom been baking a ton that Christmas season? Had she given me an advent chocolate that morning? The morning she learned she could be dying?
It wouldn’t be until nearly fourteen years later that my mother would die. Those fourteen years made up my childhood. They were magical.
It was around the middle of those fourteen years that my mom wrote the autobiography found in the back of her cookbook. Nearing the end of it she wrote about how thankful she was to be alive and enjoying every day,
“Annual events such as Christmas and birthdays cause me some stress because in the back of my mind I secretly say, ‘If this is my last one, I want it to be the best one!'”
She was the magic. She created it.
I’ve mourned my mother’s death more since I became a mother than I ever did before. Becoming a mother is such a perspective change; becoming a mother has allowed me to begin to feel just how much she loved me, as my love grows for my own children. It’s both overwhelmingly warm and fuzzy feeling and heart shatteringly painful; true heartache.
So here I sit. Surrounded by Christmas. Carrying on traditions, and starting my own. Carrying on her legacy with gingerbread and decorations that she made, very mindful of how grateful I am for the life that I have. Life is so short.
I may not be receiving a diagnosis this Christmas, but I want every Christmas to be the best that it can be too. I am thrilled to have that magical feeling back. Perhaps I am the one creating it? After all, I learned from the best.