35 years ago, my mother died during that magical period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the worst and possibly one of the more common times to die. People try to hold on for special occasions – birthdays, holidays, anniversaries – only to lose their battles in the middle of the fights towards the inevitable.
That year, 1984, my siblings and I were all young adults, two recently (very recently!) married, one in college, and the remaining two floundering around trying to figure out where we fit in and what in the hell we were supposed to be doing with whom and where. I was in the third group.
My mother knew she was dying and she must have done some planning with my then newly-married sister. Unable to do the Christmas shopping, my mother had my sister choose gifts for the other four of us, a task my other siblings and I were oblivious to. I lived 500 miles away in a time before the easy communication afforded by cell phones, email, texting and cheap phone calls. Every minute counted back then and our phone calls were scripted and short and always left me sad and wanting more. I was blissfully unaware not only of my sister’s work behind the scenes, but also of the graveness of my mother’s health.
Shock doesn’t begin to describe what we all went through when she died. Some of us were dazed to begin with and the remainder of us joined the dazed few. But my sister, my amazing sister, had ensured that we would have my mother with us for Christmas in one way or another. Christmas morning, which came 3 weeks after my mother died, we each had a gift from her. Wrapped and addressed to each of us from Mom. Each of us except for my sister. I still have the gray sweater with the little fake pearls around the neckline that my sister chose for me. I’ve never worn it, but it has moved from one place to the next with me for 35 years, neatly tucked away in a box with other memorable but useless things, valuable only because I know it’s there and how it came to be. My Christmas sweater, the last gift from my Mom and the most precious gift I’ve ever received from my beautiful sister.