Love and Loss at the Holidays

As I pass the one year anniversary of my mother’s death, I am sad that my mom will not be with us for the holidays and keenly aware of her absence. For the last 18 months, my mother – when she was alive and when she was not – was my responsibility. I was the one who saw her the most, she lived with me for the last six months of her life and then, as her executor, it was my responsibility to carry out her wishes.

My brother and sister helped when they could, but I was the local child and then the keeper of all legal documents. Three large plastic bins in my office testify to that fact. My taking care of her is over. But who will be the keeper of her memories? And the keeper of her family history.

My mother was the one in her generation who was great at making sure that the family stayed in touch. She would say to me “Have you talked to your sister?” Or tell me about my brother’s new job, my aunt’s health problems, or ask about the next family get-together. And the other day I found myself worrying, “Who will do that now?” How will we carry on that legacy? Who will keep us connected?

Without her, I realize that I took for granted how easy it was to ask her a question about the family – how she met my dad, where grandma came from, and a myriad of other things. And in the last 11 months alone, there were many times when I realized that I had no one to ask. She is the last of her family’s generation.

I also realized that although we spent a lot of time together, especially in those last months of her life, I never asked her enough about her life and her childhood. Oh, I knew the big things; that she was a child prodigy, a concert pianist, a widow three times over, a great dancer. But I did not ask her enough how she felt about things. What was it like to grow up above a fruit and vegetable market? How did she manage to raise three kids alone and work full time? How did she deal with the death of a beloved husband?

There was so much wisdom there that I did not take advantage of. I console myself with the understanding that she was of a generation that did not talk much about feelings. Had I tried, she might have said, “Who talks about things like that?” But I wish that I had made more of an effort.

Recently, I came across an old book from a graduate school geriatrics class about using oral histories in talking to older members of the family. It reminded me that the more we know about our elders, the more connected we are to our roots, and the more we will have to pass on.

As we approach the holidays and New Year, I encourage everyone to take advantage of the time you have with your loved ones. Even if they do not make it easy, ask about their lives and how they got to be who they are. Those little pieces of history cannot be reclaimed once they’re gone. And perhaps I can follow in my mother’s footsteps by making sure that our family stays in close touch, passing along our stories and wisdom.


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photo Flickr: Carodean Road Design