Making The Cut: When Christmas Is Painful

It is no secret that my mother died a few years ago. I have written about it a few times here, including when I shared about the difficulty of the first holiday season without her. As anyone who has experienced loss can tell you, it is often the most unexpected moments that hit you the hardest.

I can honestly say that even three years later, the process of doing holiday cards is one of the times I miss my mom the most. It is one of the times that I can genuinely hear her voice raving about my choice of cards and my children in their photos.

I am beyond honored that The Huffington Post is sharing a post that I wrote about what it feels like when Christmas is painful. When you have to make the cut in the Christmas card list that you wish you did not have to make.

When Christmas Is Painful

We are closing comments here today in hopes that you will share your thoughts over at HuffPo instead. It would mean the world to me, and I can promise you that somewhere my mother will be sharing them all beaming with pride.



Making the Cut

I wrote this post originally 2 years ago. The first Christmas without my mother. It has never actually run on this site before. I am sharing it today, because the words remain true even 2 years later.

Christmas cards are both the highlight of my year and the bane of my existence. I absolutely love receiving them and honestly look forward for the eleven months leading up to the arrival of certain cards because I know that they will make me smile. I clear off doors worth of “art” work by my children so that we can display our cards, and I always feel sad when the second week of January hits because we must finally take them down. There is something so heartwarming about seeing all the cards with photos of smiling children and knowing, from experience, of all the creativity and hard work that people (mothers) put into making sure the cards best represent their families.

Because once the advent of photo cards happened, simply getting the right Christmas card photo(s) is a chore, or has been in years past for me. The outtakes could probably be a card in and of themselves, but honestly, who wants that displayed, every year, on their mantle? I always imagine during the home photo session that if I were on a hidden camera reality show, the following clip would be the scene they would use right before they brought some sort of expert to coach me through how to really be a loving parent.

Nothing says holiday joy like:

“Stand over here kids.”

“Now, hug your sister. No, I said HUG your sister … don’t crush your sister!”

“Do you children even want presents this year?”

“I have Santa’s phone number, and I am not afraid to call him and cancel Christmas right now if you don’t do what I say!”

“Stop crying RIGHT.THIS.MINUTE. And smile, This is all Mommy asks of you once a year, and you can’t even help me here?”

“Mommy is sorry girls, mommy is really sorry … I am not calling Santa …can you both just smile and then you can have popsicles?”

And on and on we go until in the end I consider doing what I did last year, which was using a card of crying Santa pictures.


But this year I got really smart and turned the whole thing over to my amazing photographer friend. She perfectly captured exactly who my girls are at just this moment – and all I had to do was buy the dresses and show up. That, my friends, is the ticket to Christmas magic!














But the accompanying stress of Christmas card season was not over, as I was then on to the next phase of the Christmas card process, which is always fraught with challenge for me … the annual cutting of the list.

Because I love Christmas cards, I never want to remove anyone from my list. Ever. If I had my way, I would exchange cards with every person we have ever known. However, time and money prevent this from being possible. Also, as life would have it, my list seems to grow each year as the girls get older, and we fortunately add some new friends to our lives, which makes the cutting even more necessary. So, I pulled out the list and began to make my way through it, finding that some names were easy to add to the delete columns, while others were a little harder, but still necessary.

But then the unexpected happened. Even though I should have been prepared. I came to my mother’s name. Ouch. You see, in the final couple of years before she died, my mother was in a nursing home, which meant that I had to send her card there. That alone had been a bit of a transition for me to make, but now I came to the point where I had to permanently remove her name from the list. It seemed pathetic to leave it on there because obviously this reminder would probably be no less painful next year, but it also felt so strange to just backspace over it, as though it had not existed at all.

The same backspace action that I gave to the neighbor who moved or the classmate of Abby’s from last year who went to a different school. Except in this case, it was my mother. It was my mother who would not be receiving a Christmas card; and my mother, in fact, who would not be seeing the professional photos of my children for the very first time. She would have LOVED these photos, would have wanted to talk about them for hours, definitely would have wanted to purchase every single one, despite not having a place to put them. In fact, honestly, it probably would have annoyed me, but she would have loved them. And it makes me so sad that she won’t see the card with the photos, and just as sad that she is off the list, just like that. There is no button for “regrettably delete.” It was all the same to my computer, but not all the same to me.

So, here we are, right? It is the season of hope, of love, of joy, of peace and of longing, I suppose. But I can’t help but think about how many people in creating their own cards, the ones that I have hanging on my door and the ones I will never see, went through the same process of cutting and culling their list; and might have had the sadness and pain that I did when I culled mine.

These cards, for me anyway, serve as a reminder that we are all in this together, that once a year we all remember each other and take the time to say so, even to those who can’t get a card anymore.



Nora Ephron Made Me Think

When Nora Ephron died recently I found myself really sad, beyond the normal level of sad given that I didn’t actually know Nora Ephron. At least not in real life. But like so many people who watched her movies and read her work over the years, I felt like I knew her. Heartburn remains to this day one of my favorite movies, and I watched it several times with my mother, so Nora and my mother remain indelibly linked in my mind and in my memory bank.

I immediately wrote my friend Rene Syler over at Good Enough Mother and told her that I wanted to do a piece based on an article I had read about Nora Ephron. It really made me stop and think when I read it and inspired me to want to write my own lists. I would love for you to head over and share your thoughts on what would be on your own lists.


Terms of Endearment

There is a scene at the end of the movie Terms of Endearment where Debra Winger is saying goodbye to her children in her hospital room. My mom and I used to have differing opinions over which part made us cry harder. For me, especially as a teenager, it was always Teddy with his broken face and the obvious heartbreak happening to him right in front of my eyes. For her though, it was Tommy, the older son, the one who was struggling to hold it all together and remain his defiant preteen self. He was trying not to cry and to show that he was just fine. It was what Debra Winger said to him that broke my mother’s heart. She told him that she wanted him to know, to really know in his heart, that she knew he loved her. She did not want him to be left with the guilt that so often settles into those left behind when they know they didn’t say it enough or show it enough, especially to their mothers. So she made sure, as mothers so often do, to be selfless in that moment, to comfort him, even if he did not think he needed her comfort. Because she knew he did and would.

Now that I am a mother and now that I have lost a mother, I see why that part mattered to her so much more. It is the less obvious parts of mothering that matter the most in the end. And I think it strikes at the very core of our fear in mothering that we wonder to ourselves, in our darkest moments…if I die tomorrow, will my children know how very I loved them and how much I know they loved me?

Having celebrated another Mother’s Day, I really feel that way. Did my own mother know that I really did love her, despite all the ways that she attempted to make herself unlovable to me? Does she somehow know, somewhere that she is in fact missed, probably far more than she would have ever imagined possible when she was alive?

More than that, though, I wonder if my own girls know how very much I love them, especially when I think of the moments where I lose my patience. Because I remember those moments with my own mother, and I certainly didn’t feel like she loved me very much at those times. I just remember thinking that she was crazy. Sadly, honestly, that is probably what my children think, too. And they are right, because in those moments I am crazy, and I suppose I can take a small measure of comfort in knowing that I am not alone in feeling that way. Thank God for the women around me who tell me that they feel the same way or do the same things or that their children look at them with the same eyes of bewilderment and fear and sadness.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all bad. I am not here to do some sort of public flogging of myself or to ask for kudos for a job well done. As always, I just want to share the truth of how I am feeling and hope that someone reading says to themselves, “Girl, I hear you, and I feel the same way.”

These very same little people, who I scold, who I sometimes hurt with my tone, my sharpness, my quickness to react, still look at me with love in their eyes as they call me Mommy. They still give me cards saying I am a rock star and thank me for being theirs. Which is funny to me in a way, because I feel like the thanking should be the other way around. I should thank them for being mine.