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I used to spend every Christmas with my Mom, no matter what. It was always just the two of us and, although she’d be so generous when I became an adult about asking if I’d rather spend Christmas with my “little friends,” my Mom was home for me and Christmas was ours.

Each Christmas, we had one particularly crazy ritual: we’d give each other multiple cards. There’d be cute ones, funny ones and always – – from me to her – – a big, mushy one. Over the years, I realized that this kind of card always made her cry, so I started putting a tissue in them. Which made her laugh. Which made her cry.

Christmas 2009 was just 4 months after she died. It was my first Christmas without her. Thankfully, I’d been invited to join Christmas Dinner with my best friend, her aunt, uncle and extended family. We’d decided that my friend’s husband would pick me up at my apartment at noon.

Oh, those few hours alone that first Christmas Day. I was prepared to just soldier through those first few hours alone on Christmas morning, knowing that it wouldn’t be for too long. All I had to do was hang on and get through that and I’d be rescued. I did pretty well with that, until something set me off sobbing. Maybe trying so hard not to lose it was the trigger. Maybe remembering all those past Christmases did it. Maybe it was the huge emptiness of not exchanging all those cards that made my Mom laugh, that made her cry, that made me roll my eyes. All I know is that they were sobs from a place so deep I can’t even name it. The kind of sobs that leave you all concave, your body curling around the empty space.

After that, I showered, dressed and sat in my chair watching television numbly, hands clutching the arm of the chair, waiting for my rescue ride to the noisy distraction of others. I also couldn’t wait for a big, loving, knowing hug from my best friend . . . and a drink.

Noon came and went. No texts, no emails, no calls.
One o’clock. At last something: they’d pick me up at 2:30 because my best friend’s aunt didn’t want to have to rush and didn’t want “people” around while she was doing dinner prep. They’d gotten into a spat because my friend was trying to get permission to come get me earlier.

Really?

Her aunt couldn’t figure out that someone who was spending their first Christmas without their mom and who lived alone, might be desperate to be around people. She couldn’t figure out that I was sitting there, all alone, thinking about what I’d have been doing with my Mom at this time or that during the course of the morning. She couldn’t figure out that I’d give anything to be helping out in the kitchen amid all the mess, bustle and company.

It felt unbearably cruel. It felt incredibly selfish.

I started to punish myself for feeling ungrateful for the invitation. Who was I to be peevish about timing? I was a guest.

Yeah, I wasn’t suffering enough, so let me beat up on myself. Great idea!

By the time 2:30 p.m. came around, the real hell of it was past. I’d sobbed, been pissed off at my cruel, selfish hostess who had no concept of what Christmas was really about, and then castigated myself for being ungrateful, entitled, and judgmental. Ho. HO. HO!

When the car finally pulled up, I was relieved to see my best friend’s husband. I fell into the arms of my best friend as soon as we arrived at her aunt’s house. I knew nobody there really wanted to hear about some woman’s dead mother on Christmas Day, so I thanked those who offered condolences, slapped a smile on my face, and promptly changed the conversation to something mundane.

It was a perfectly pleasant Christmas. My friend, her husband and I exchanged knowing glances and inside jokes throughout the day. Mostly, I was numb.

I was surprised how relieved I felt when I returned home. Alone. With my Mom. I turned on “Feliz Navidad” (our family’s Christmas anthem) and imagined myself doing our crazy dance in the kitchen while I made myself a spiked egg nog.

That was 3 years ago. I still like spending Christmas with just me and Mom best.

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