I am currently facing the heartbreaking reality of Christmas without my mother. Christmas without my mother is something I have never experienced before.

Last night, I was enjoying a walk down a quiet side street, headed to one of my favorite restaurants in Andersonville. It was an unseasonably mild night for late November in Chicago, and the bare trees were elegant silhouettes against the thickly clouded sky. I began to notice the Christmas lights that have started popping up around my neighbor’s doors and windows. One wide door was framed entirely with lights that looked like icicles. Many evergreen bushes are now studded with colored lights. And sure enough, in many windows, Christmas trees are appearing. The act of keeping your curtains open at night so that passersby can see you Christmas tree is humanity at its best. It’s an act of pure excitement, pure pleasure and frivolity: look at this adorable tree we decorated!

I have been so busy lately, running from one thing to the next, that I have hardly had time to notice how close Christmas is. Grief so far seems to be a long journey through many heartbreaks large and small, expected and unexpected. When I saw those Christmas trees, my heart broke a little more. Because when you see a Christmas tree, you think of your Christmas tree. And if you are very lucky, as I was, when you think of your Christmas tree, you think of your mother.

I have been unsure how to face this coming holiday. Sometimes I feel dread.

Other times I feel swept away by the regular old joys of the season. I get excited about throwing holiday parties for friends, with fancy punch bowls and a huge spread of food. On Sunday I’m going to take Tyler and get a little tree for our coffee table. I’m looking forward to finding gifts for my family and Tyler’s family. But what about a gift for my mom?

So I start here. By reminding you that not just for me, but for all the people around you who have gone through a loss in the past year, this is a time of intense sadness. And by telling you that I had a mother who made Christmas a beautiful thing. So much so that even after her death, even when I am missing her horribly, even when nothing is right, I can still see how beautiful it is. That’s just one of the uncountable gifts she gave me.

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