92. Counting Down to Christmas

92. Counting Down to Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Counting Down to Christmas

Smile… heaven is watching.

~African Proverb

We gathered around the Christmas tree, six of us instead of seven, trying to grab onto something familiar. Mom had only been gone eight days.

I had just turned seventeen, but the long journey to that Christmas began when I was fifteen. Before then, I didn’t even know what breast cancer was, let alone the devastation it would cause my family. It wasn’t caught in time, and after a mastectomy and months of radiation they let us know it was too late. We would lose her; it was just a matter of when.

Still, I chose not to believe it. I was, after all, a teenager. This was my time to rebel against my mother, not mourn her. I needed to spend time with her, but there wasn’t any. I wouldn’t know until later just how much I needed that. By then, she was gone.

How do you celebrate Christmas one week after your mom has passed away? We sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and I think we opened presents. It’s so hard to remember. Most of my memories of that day revolve around a single, grainy Polaroid photo my brother took. Sitting among unwrapped gifts, we’re smiling but it doesn’t quite reach our eyes.

Everything reminded me of Mom; nothing reminded me of Christmas.

For five, ten, fifteen years, I wandered. I tried to fit my life into eight states and thirty-six towns and struggled to make a career out of an untold number of jobs. From Iowa to Michigan to New York to Vermont to Indiana to Missouri to Colorado, I fled, running from loss, searching for peace or joy or some kind of contentment.

Looking for family.

Then, a miracle happened. My youngest sister married her college sweetheart and they introduced a chubby little spitfire we call KatyKat into the world. Four years later, LuLu joined the family. And, just like that, everything changed.

I found what I was missing when I visited them in Ohio. So I left my home in the Rocky Mountains to be closer. A few years later, Ollie-pop entered the world… my first nephew. A couple of years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to move within four miles of these three kids. I can drive to their farm in six minutes for dinner or a campfire or snuggle-time on the couch while we watch Disney movies. I can babysit when my sister needs me or pick up my nieces from school.

It’s good to live close to your heart.

One day, I hoisted Oliver into my arms to take him up to his room for a nap. He melted into me and fell asleep almost immediately. When I laid him down on the bed, I brushed his thick, wavy hair from his forehead and it hit me just how much my mom would have adored him and his sisters. For the first time, I realized what she had missed out on. My heart broke for a second, then a voice whispered, “Enjoy this. Enjoy this for me.”

I have a new responsibility this Christmas, to embrace the enchantment of each moment with my family, not only for me, but for her. I’ve always loved this time of year despite that early heartache. How everything smells like evergreen trees and peppermints taste so much sweeter. I count the months, then the weeks, then the days. And I believe something magical can happen.

Now I see it has.

Merry Christmas, Mom. You can count on me.

~Sharyn Kopf

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