Coping with the loss of a loved one over Christmas

My mom died on Christmas Day ... how can one possibly 'be jolly' after a thing like that? ponders Qarnita Loxton

17 December 2017 - 00:00 By Qarnita Loxton

Last Christmas, my mother died.
It's a clanger when I say it like that. It's not festive, it's not how the song goes. It makes people scrunch their eyes and tilt their heads. I feel their sympathy. I appreciate it. Truth is, it's not as if her death just changed the holidays; it's changed everything, not only the season to be jolly.
I know I'm not alone. I know many others who also struggle with loss over this time. In the middle of the smiles it is the gap in the family landscape that draws our eyes, the holes are where our hearts rest the longest.
I have learnt over this past year that the milestone things - Mother's Day, the birthday, the weddings; they have a sharpness above and beyond the thorns that catch me in the everyday.
Well, sometimes they are sharper. I underestimated the ordinary savagery of not being able to phone her on a random afternoon.
As the day gets closer I've started to wonder if it makes any difference that the first anniversary of her death comes in the time when it's all blue skies and braais. It's not like we were a Christmas family, it wasn't our tradition, so I don't have those memories to make me cry.
But still the December-ness of the season has been catching me, making me swallow hard. I'm starting to realise that it's this time of year that most reminds me of her life, of the way she lived, of the things I miss the most about her.You see, my mother was about as festive a person as you could hope to find. She was the queen of finding her joy in life, that breed of human who could always find the bright side, make the best of every situation she found herself in.
"Places to go, people to see," could have been her personal mantra. She loved a party, an occasion, an event. In December she kicked all of it up a notch. Last year she had plans to be on the beach, out with friends, a trip to India booked to see in the New Year.
She was stopped mid-dance by a brain aneurysm and stayed in the ICU for a month. You already know how it ended.She died on a stunningly beautiful blue-skied Christmas Day. In the middle of the ultimate season of happiness and holidays, when families and friends spend time together, she quietly breathed her last.
In the ward outside her room, the tinsel was up, Christmas lunch nearly ready. In the world outside the hospital, smiling happy people took photos next to the Christmas tree and braaied at the side of the pool.
It jarred me, that life could go on like that, but I told myself that at least her suffering was over. She would not have to live a life without awareness, dignity and joy.
My sister and I joked that my mother was larger than life to the very end. She wouldn't go quietly in the night. No, she would wait for a beautiful day of parties to make her exit. She would make sure to be remembered.
So my mother died, and it broke my heart. Still not like the song. Now the blue skies of December bring a sharpness that wasn't there before, but they also still bring a season of family and friends.It's a time when I can do things to make my children and my home happy. It does not make her absence any easier, I do not miss her any less, but I realise that I am finding joy in the way that my mother showed me.
I find that joy softens the sharpness. I like to think of it as her parting gift; to leave in a season when there is no choice but to be reminded of the joys in life, when it is easy for me to find comfort in the people around me.
Does it make a difference that the first anniversary of my mother's death comes in the time when it's all tinsel and Christmas lunches, blue skies and braais? I don't know. I do know that December will always remind me of her death, but more than that December will always remind me of the way she lived.

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