Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

Counting Down to Christmas

on December 5, 2014

We gathered around the Christmas tree, six instead of seven, trying to grab onto something familiar. A family whole, minus one. Mom had only been gone eight days. If felt like more. It felt like less. Her spirit swirled around us, laughing, tickling us to join her.


Two of my favorite pictures of Mom. I’ve been told I have her smile.

A lost and joyous ghost of Christmas past.

Dressed in green.

Draped in black.

I had just turned seventeen when Mom died, but the long journey to that Christmas began when I was fifteen. Before then, I didn’t even know what breast cancer was, let alone the devastation it would cause my family. The doctor didn’t catch it in time and, after a mastectomy and months of radiation, they let us know it was too late. We would lose her, it was just a matter of when.

Still, I chose not to believe it. I was, after all, a high school student. This was my time to rebel against her, not mourn her. I needed to spend time with her, but there wasn’t any. I wouldn’t know until later just how much I needed that. By then, she was gone.

How do you celebrate Christmas one week after your mom has passed away? We sang The Twelve Days of Christmas and I think we opened presents. It’s so hard to remember. Most of my memories of that day revolve around a single, grainy Polaroid photo my brother took. Our faces are downcast, pensive and sad, with a few unwrapped gifts scattered about. We didn’t even have a week to get used to the idea.

Everything reminded me of Mom; nothing reminded me of Christmas.

For five, ten, fifteen years, my siblings and I wandered. I tried to fit my life into eight states and thirty-six towns and struggled to make a career out of an untold number of jobs. From Iowa to Michigan to New York to Vermont to Indiana to Missouri to Colorado I fled, running from loss, searching for peace or joy or some kind of contentment.

Looking for family.

Then, a miracle — my youngest sister married her college sweetheart and, one or two years later, they introduced a chubby little spitfire we call KatyKat into the world. Four years later, sweet-hearted LuLu joined the family. And, just like that, everything changed.

I found what I was missing when I visited them in Ohio. So I left my home in Colorado to be closer. A few years later, Ollie-pop entered the world. My first nephew.

In April of 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to move within four miles of these three kids. I can drive to their farm in six minutes for dinner or a campfire or snuggle-time on the couch while we watch Disney movies. I can babysit when my sister needs me or pick up my nieces from school.

It’s good to live close to your heart.

One day, when Oliver was two, I hoisted him into my arms to take him up to his room for a nap. He melted into me and fell asleep almost immediately. When I laid him down on the bed, I brushed his thick, wavy hair from his forehead, and it hit me just how much my mom would have adored him. And his sisters. For the first time, I realized how much she had missed. The knowledge wrung grief from my heart for a second, then a voice whispered,

“Enjoy this. Enjoy this for me.”

A new responsibility covers me now at Christmas. A longing to embrace the enchantment of each moment with my family, not only for me but for her.

I’ve always loved this time of year, despite that early heartache. How everything smells like evergreen trees and peppermints taste so much sweeter. I count the months, then the weeks, then the days. And I believe something magical can happen.

Now I see it has. The One who loves me most has multiplied my joy. More than I ever dreamed possible.

Merry Christmas, Mom. You can count on me.


6 responses to “Counting Down to Christmas

  1. kimmesser says:

    Beautiful…thank you.

  2. Becky says:

    Love this. Thanks for sharing your heart. 🙂

  3. What a beautiful post, Sharyn. They are blessed to have an aunt such as you!

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