The Christmas We Keep: A Guest Post by Phyllis Dawson

“[She] was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
—“Funeral Blues,” by W.H. Auden


So often this time of year we find ourselves asking, “What is the true meaning of Christmas?”. How do we see it in our mind’s eye? Is it a sugarplum confection, or are we ultimately left feeling unfulfilled and less than satisfied? So now I ask, what does Christmas look like for you?

In one of the more unfortunate dealings of life, this year will be the first time I look upon Christmas without my mother. After losing her in March to a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s, Christmas decided it was still coming just the same. I didn’t want it; I could hardly fake daily smiles, much less the type of cheer and enthusiasm the holiday season calls for. Simply put, I wanted to shut down, tune out and refuse any and all joy.

Then something happened—my sister Brenda.

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My sister, Brenda, is 16 years my senior, and mentally handicapped. Having lived every single day of her life at home with our mother, no one felt her loss as acutely as she. To say that the changes she has endured since my mother’s passing have been monumental would be quite an understatement. And this is where Christmas comes into the picture. Brenda called me the other day, and asked if I’d drive her to the cemetery to take an arrangement she’d made for our mother. She couldn’t let the holiday (no matter how painful for those left behind) go forgotten in memory of a mother and grandmother who made Christmas so very special for everyone else, for so many years. So I pushed aside both sorrow and loss, and instead focused on the pride that I saw in my sister’s face as she placed her humble, homemade Christmas gift on the grave.

So, if anyone asks me what my Christmas looks like this year, I know exactly what to tell them: it looks like a coffee can covered in yellowed wrapping paper, holding cedar and pine branches with a few sprigs of holly. It looks like pictures of Santa, cut out of holiday cards, tied to branches with yarn. And mostly, it looks like the love you hold for the memory of one who has left, but is certainly not gone.

Merry Christmas.

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