As a child, Christmas was my favourite. I loved the decorations and spending time with my family, especially my mother and grandmother. Growing up, I loved them both equally. My mother was fun and loving and often like a big sister, while my grandmother and I were close like a mother and daughter.
Last year was the first Christmas without my Grandmother; she died on January 14th 2013. We came home from the hospital to a house that still had lights and a tree. Almost two years have gone by, and I cry when I say that she has died.
Facing the holidays without a loved one is terrible, but it becomes so much more so when the relationship was centered on that holiday. To say that our relationship centered on Christmas sounds strange, but it’s true.
Growing up, Christmas was my favourite time of year. My mother and I would spend days decorating our house and then days decorating my grandmother’s house. Both would be trimmed head to toe in Christmas lights (you never saw a lamp or overhead light on in December). There were big holiday dinners and lots of time spent with family.
I have, in my brain, our entire family history through Christmas ornaments. Whose mother-in-law it came from, how many generations back we’ve owned it. My knowledge of Christmas extends into my knowledge of our family history as well, since every time we went hunting for an ornament or rearranged for the holidays, photo albums came out and I was taught every person’s face, even if it was just an uncle’s friend who came for dinner that one time. My Grandmother and mother shared with me during these times not only the history of our Christmas ornaments but family history.
I’m lucky: my first Christmas without my grandmother came right after a major life change involving relocation and was the first Christmas with a significant other. Even though it had been a year since her death, I was still heartbroken and in that year, my Christmas changed completely. Instead of a big sit down dinner on Christmas Eve, I have an aunt who hosts the same family members but in a different house and with appetizers, and goodies galore. Christmas last year sparked the beginning of a new tradition with my other half – we agreed Christmas Eve for my family, Christmas Day for his grandmother and Boxing Day with his mother.
For some people, so much change following a loss can leave you feeling more lost. For me, the only way to enjoy Christmas was remove from it so many of the ties to the past. And yet, I still hold onto bits and pieces.
I recently purchased a set of Christmas ornaments off eBay that match a set my grandmother had. Through the long journey of finding the ornament, I was once again back in her living room, being told this history of the ornaments. Instead of colourful people stories of where they came from, the stories I learned this year were about brands and dates. I discovered things about my grandmother that I didn’t know. Like that she preferred a certain brand of ornaments.
I’ve been told by family and friends that I’m lucky I got so much of my Grama. That she shared stories about herself and her family, about growing up and her life with me so easily should make me feel blessed. And it often does.
My grandmother’s decorations were scattered. Pieces here and there. I see them now and then, and I may tear up but I hold fast. The bulk of the tree ornaments have been stored by my mother until she moves into a larger space where a full tree can be erected. Some people hate that they can’t see my grandmother’s tree again in one piece. To them, the tree is a centrepiece to their childhood happiness that they miss and they wish we could rebuild it each year for everyone to enjoy.
For me, I am glad that they are the way they are. I wish they were mine, on my tree. I so selfishly wish that everything she owned belonged to me. But the truth is, I am glad that we all got a part of her. I am glad that the ornaments will never stand together on one tree. Because even if we kept her tree, and placed every ornament on it, it would never be whole. The tree would always be lacking the heart and soul of it. The voice telling you what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.
As the years go by, we will all build our own families. Spouses, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Nieces, nephews, and great ones too. We will take our ornaments, and our small piece of her and build up our lives. Our trees will all have heart and soul. And one day, we will be the voice telling the children what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.