Monday, December 16, 2013

Gifts in Grief

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas is days away and eager reporters remind us that the shopping and shipping days are dwindling.  Their incessant countdowns compound the frenzy as commercials insist that this store or that one have what you need for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list, the gifts they want and the things you need to buy.  I can't fault them for playing to our desire to delight and impress the people we love, but this year I'm just not listening, and it's no statement against "commercializing" Christmas.  

This Advent, Christmas, or "Holiday" season, whichever is familiar or comfortable for you, snuck up on me.  It wasn't the lateness of Thanksgiving or even the unseasonably warm weather we experienced well into the month that attributed to the season's stealth.  Instead I've been somewhat numb to the season in anticipation of its bittersweetness this year.  My mother passed away in October after two years battling breast-cancer.  It was faster than expected, though her death was neither expected nor unexpected.  And so my family and I find ourselves facing two big firsts this Christmas, an emptiness at our table as well as a new place.  It will be our first Christmas without Mom, and our first Christmas with my sister's wonderful baby boy.

Grief, I have found, inspires re-evaluation and introspection.  "Why," is a question I am learning to avoid- because it is most often accusatory, as if one suspects malicious intent.  "Why" also seems to suggest there was some other more desirable alternative.  The whys lead me down rabbit holes of anger, bitterness, and defensiveness.  I have found much more beauty in questions of "what," which is to consider substance instead of motive.  "What," free of its often counter-productive partner "if," also invites me to take action.  "What" keeps me moving, and sometimes even appreciative.

Though I wonder what Christmas will be like this year, I still find my mother present with me- and I hope.  My family and I have forge on through the grief and through the holidays trying to keep as much normalcy as we can.  We will still exchange gifts, and though there may be nothing wrapped under the tree from her this year, I am realizing that Mom stock-piled me with gifts for a lifetime, and her impact, her legacy carries through the gifts we'll give this year.  

While I made most of our gifts this year, what we bought this Christmas, we bought with love and thoughtfulness that mirrors the generosity and warmth she poured into our lives.  In the wake of her passing I am reminded of the gifts she endowed me.  The things I made or will make would be impossible without her, for she, above all others, instilled in me the power to dream and courage to create.  

My mother was exceptionally well-rounded in domestic arts- sometimes out of necessity, but always out of love.  She was a wiz in the kitchen, adept in the garden, and though she wasn't perfect- she was amazing.  We absorbed so much from simply being in her presence because she showed us that there was so much that could be accomplished if we only tried.  She built us up when we failed, encouraged us when we were timid, and celebrated our successes.

She sewed curtains, dresses, costumes, pillows, flags- even vestments when our church was struggling.  The fabric stores to which she dragged my sister and me- all across North Carolina and beyond- became classrooms for teaching us about possibility and potential.  She taught us to look at structure and value over cost.  

"Does it have good bones," she would ask.  Mom reupholstered, re-painted,  and re-did anything that did have "good bones."  She gifted us with the ability to see beyond what is and see what could be.  She even seemed to apply this ability with people, discerning their value despite any veneer.

Though she is no longer here to hug and hold, her presence is still felt. Each time I complete a homemade present, especially those that challenge my novice sewing skills- I hear the echo of her praise.  Funny how so many of the gifts my husband and I chose this year are earnestly made to wrap our family in warmth. 

I am blessed to have a mother such as her, one worth mourning; one who filled my world with love, and warmth, and potential.  

So as the shopping and shipping days dwindle, I encourage you to remember this: gifts of the tangible, wrapped-up kind are nice, but love is the greatest, most enduring and indelible gift which wraps instead of being wrapped, is present but cannot be presented.
We love because He first loved us. {1John 4:19}