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Holiday “glitter grief” and an angel named Claire

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I lost my mother in April.

It was a slow, painful death after a 30-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis.  Though she was larger-than-life, she wanted a small, intimate graveside service and we treated everyone to Chinese food at her favorite restaurant following the service. There were a lot of hilarious memories shared over a delicious plate of ginger beef–just the way she would have wanted it.

My childhood was heaped in tradition. Visits to my grandparent’s farm. Big, joyful celebrations. When I went away to college, she sent me care packages for every holiday that I assumed would stop when I graduated but they continued for many years until she was too ill to send them…and my dad took over. 

For the most part, my grieving has been sporadic. I have been mourning her for years, as anyone with a loved one who has an incurable disease can relate. But I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the holidays would be. As I unpacked our holiday decorations, so many of them held memories of my mother. A crafting goddess who was a successful restauranteur, she handmade so many treasures that she passed on to me. As I decorated the tree with my daughter, I found a lace angel ornament I have never noticed before, one that was undoubtedly gifted by my mom: Mothers are really angels in disguise.

I cried. She probably gave it to me when I first became a mother, not knowing how much it would impact me on my first Christmas without her.  I love these sentiments adapted from George Shelley:

Grief is much like glitter. In the original time of tragedy, it’s like throwing a big handful of glitter up in the air. Then you attempt to clean it all up, as you don’t want to have to see that everywhere & be reminded of that pain. Over the next few days…weeks…years – you’ll find remnants of glitter everywhere, tucked here & there. Triggering you of the pain. The ‘grief glitter’ will be found in many nooks & crannies of your life. As years go by, there will be less glitter found in those secret places. But when a small glimmer of glitter appears….your heart will always go back to that moment of great loss.

I gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral. It was chock-full of hilarious stories and some sad ones, too. Following the service, Claire Neville walked up to give me a hug. For much of her life, my mom was the life of every party but as her condition worsened, she shut out most people except for her family.

And Claire.

This 80+-year-old widow–who has known her share of trials and heartache–refused to leave her, often bringing her thoughtful gifts and staying with her when my caregiver dad needed a break.

So, I was surprised by what sweet Claire told me at the funeral. “Oh, Amber. I just loved hearing all of the fun stories about your mom. I never knew her back then and it makes me so happy to hear about her full, wonderful life.”

Mic drop.

Claire had been such an integral part of my mom’s life that I never realized her interactions with her were solely in her later, difficult years. 

How many of us can say that we have stood by someone during their darkest days, weeks, months and years, no matter how much they attempted to push us away? Our world needs less frenzied Black Friday shopping for the “perfect gift” and more gifts of kindness, love and mending of broken hearts without expecting anything in return. 

This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love, and then speak it again. -Howard W. Hunter

Because you never know what kind of an impact a simple, kind gesture can make. 

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