Everyone said the first holidays without your loved one are rough. I guess I didn’t anticipate it would be so hard because we had started losing my mom a long time ago. She hadn’t known what Christmas was for a few years. Yet, it was different and it was painful not having her there with us physically. No gifts to put under the tree. No hugs to give. No pictures to take. All we could do was visit her grave; a piece of stone with her name and picture on it.
We did, as a family, go over and decorate her grave. I’d like to think she was looking in on us and saw the love we have for her. We visited our other loved ones who are buried at that same cemetery as well: my grandparents, great-grandparents and nephew.
I decided a while ago that I would continue with making English Toffee this Christmas, in honor of Mom. As you may remember, I have been making my mom’s famous English Toffee for Christmas and Mother’s Day for the past few years to raise money for my mom’s caregiving fund. Obviously that need is gone, but I have some devoted customers who look forward to toffee season and I figured it would be a nice way to honor and remember her at the holidays. I decided to make a donation to The DEANA Foundation with the money raised this year. I didn’t think it would be a difficult task; I’ve been doing this for years and have enjoyed doing it for my mom. The difference that I didn’t anticipate was that I am no longer doing this for my mom, but rather in memory of. It hit me much harder than I expected. On day one of making toffee, I ended up crying on my kitchen floor, two separate times. I always thought it was over-dramatic in the movies when people would crunch up in a ball and cry; I’ve never been that kind of crier. I get it now. Thankfully, I was able to pull myself out of it and finish the job. It helped to have my aunt and sister-in-law come over a time or two to help me out so I wasn’t alone with my thoughts. I got through toffee season and I made around 90 pounds of toffee!
On Christmas morning, I woke up with the flu. I didn’t know it was the flu at first. It started with a slight cough that hurt my chest, and throughout the day I felt progressively worse. I started getting body aches, fever and chills and I just felt tired. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my Christmas, but if I’m being completely honest it did distract me from missing my mom because all I could think about was getting through the day and going to bed at the end of it. Having family around also helped to make the day brighter.
I know my dad struggled a lot this season. I can only imagine what he’s going through. I know how hard it has been for me and hard as that is, I have no doubt that it’s ten times harder for him. But, we got through it and are looking forward to brighter days. Just after the new year, dad and I visited Mom’s grave (as we do every Sunday) and we talked about the struggles of moving forward and feeling joy after losing her. My dad said something that really made me pause and think. To preface this, he remarked how he’d been watching “Castaway” a lot lately. At the end of the movie, Chuck talks about how he survived for four years, alone on that island. My dad quoted a part of the movie; here is the quote directly from Chuck’s mouth:
“I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
My dad has lost my mom and some days it feels that all hope is lost with her. Yet, no matter what, the sun is going to continue to rise each day, whether we want it to or not. It is up to us to decide how we want each day to be. Some days will be easier than others, but who knows what tomorrow might bring? Even through the sorrow, we can find joy. It may only be a moment here and there, but hopefully the joy will soon outweigh the pain.
In thinking about this new year, I’ve thought a lot about how I can find my joy again. The ache in my heart for my mom will never go away, but I am trying my best to live each day focusing on the good things that I have in my life. Will I stop crying for her? No, I don’t believe I ever will. But I am resolved to do my best to focus on the things that bring me joy.
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