Last night, as I sat in the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree, I felt the overwhelming sadness of missing those we cannot be near this Christmas.
“Buck up, Louise,” my inner critic said in a jolly voice. “It’s not that bad. At least it looks like it will be a white Christmas.”
“Small consolation,” I hiss back. “We’ll be all alone. Nobody in our home when Christmas dinner calls us to the table.”
I’m never sure why I feel the need to speak in rhymes to my inner critic (badly I might add) Perhaps it is to disarm him.
“Nope,” the critic says. “It’s to distract yourself. You don’t know how to handle feeling sad, so you avoid it.”
Seriously? You sound like my mother.
Oh, not the one I spent my life trying to understand. That mother took her last breath in February. A sweet, tiny, sparrow-like woman whose arthritic fingers floated up to touch the faces of her daughters and granddaughters who had gathered around her bed to say good-bye.
We could do that still, in late February. Gather with those we love to say farewell. Sit in a circle around her bed, close together, heads bowed, holding each other’s hands, as we said a prayer for this, the final leg of her journey.
That mother, who bid her farewells in February was often a mystery to me. Full of contradictions and insecurities. I sometimes, unkindly, called her needy.
This one, the one who comes to visit me now from someplace on the other side, is full of understanding and wisdom. She laughs and drinks martinis and wears too much perfume and too much jewellery. She doesn’t seem to care. She’s having the time of her life in the afterlife she says.
In her aura, I no longer yearn for the mother of my dreams. I simply yearn for her to keep visiting.
And then I realize he is. Her. My inner critic is my mother’s voice. But this time, she’s not visiting me while I’m in the bath, as is her custom. She’s here, beside the Christmas tree where I sit feeling the melancholy of the hour before midnight and the sadness of this season of joy that will be spent alone.
My mother loved Christmas. She would spend hours decorating, baking, gift-buying and wrapping. From the man at the counter of the store where she normally shopped, to the woman who cut her hair, to the son of the son of the woman who cut her hair. My mother gave to everyone.
It was her way.
The gifts under our tree this year are sparse. Most were ordered online and sent directly to their recipients to avoid physical contact.
And my mother’s voice breaks into my reverie.
“It’s still Christmas Louise. A time to join the triumph of the skies and proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
“Since when do you quote Christmas carols?” I ask this unseen presence who sounds like my mother’s voice but doesn’t speak like her at all.
“Since you keep slipping into melancholy instead of Christmas cheer,” my mother’s voice says. “You love Christmas carols. Remember when your girls were little and you’d organize a carolling party and all your friends would come and you would wander the neighbourhood singing at the top of your lungs?”
And I smile and remember. Yes. That was such a good time. Full of laughter and friendship and children’s voices giggling while we parents struggled to carry a tune that nobody cared about anyway. It was the feeling of being together, of being connected that made it all so special.
And I sigh.
“We don’t have those connections this year, mum,” I say to this woman whom I cannot see but whose presence feels so real to me.
“True,” she says. “But it doesn’t mean those days are gone forever. And it definitely doesn’t mean those feelings of connection and belonging aren’t still alive. You just have to work harder to feel them. Use your creativity Louise. You’re good at that.”
And I smile in the silent night. My mother’s voice drifts away and I sit and watch the Christmas lights glow with the promise of a most Holy Night.
Christmas this year can’t be like Christmases past.
But it can still be full of those feelings and sensations I love so much. Of being connected. Immersed in love and joy. Of being part of something magical and mysterious and miraculous.
If it is to be, it is up to me.
Quietly, I turn off the Christmas tree lights. Let Beaumont out for one last romp in the now snow covered earth and then climb into bed beside my beloved who is already fast asleep.
I close my eyes and say a prayer of gratitude. For my beloved sleeping beside me. For my mother who visits me now so I can know peace. For this life I live that is so full of joy and for all those who make it a beautiful tapestry of family and friendship woven together with Love.
We may not be gathered around a crowded Christmas table laden with the food we all prepared, but we will be gathered together in our hearts. And in our hearts, there is only room for one thing. Love.
Always and forever.