After our mother passed away a few short weeks before Christmas, I wanted to do something to commemorate the very special woman she was with a meaningful DIY Christmas gift.
It’s never easy losing someone you love, but there is something even mor painful about losing them during the holiday season.
On November 4th, our mother went into hospital for what was considered to be a risky but routine surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm that had been growing slowly over many years and had finally reached the danger point.
We knew the risks, but the doctor reassured us that she was in prime health and she should come through the procedure just fine.
Still, at 81 years of age any surgery is risky. So, on the day of the surgery, we waited at the hospital – braced for the worst case scenario.
Shortly after 3 p.m., the surgeon came out to greet us. He told us that she made it through the surgery “with flying colors” and that he couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. Everything had gone smoothly and our Mom was on her way to recovery.
The relief was overwhelming. Pure joy pumped through us as we let out the longest sigh of relief one could possibly imagine.
Sadly, our relief was not destined to last.
Over the next 8 days, our Mom suffered several post-surgical complications. First her Kidney’s began to fail. Then her liver. And finally, her heart.
On November 12th at 1:43 a.m., our Mom took her last breath and left us.
The shock was real. The shock was terrible.
Our mother had been – as most mothers are – a central figure in our lives.
A single mom in an age when single moms were still relatively rare, she had raised her 4 children with dignity and grace.
It wasn’t always easy. Money was often tight. Her children – including me – showed all the symptoms of being children of a divorce. But she kept us together, happy, and sane (for the most part).
Christmas was always a special time in our lives. And no matter how tight the finances were, she always made sure to find a way to allow her children to believe in the miracle of Christmas, including Santa Claus.
The artificial Christmas tree was a bit ragged after many years of use, but we loved it none-the-less, although I’m not sure if it was despite or because of the fact that most of the decorations on it were handmade.
I still remember creating the streamers out of cut and taped together pieces of colorful paper, and threading bits of popcorn into a delightful garland. And it was not at all unusual for us to exchange DIY Christmas gifts.
It was never extravagant. But it was enough for us.
Aging with Grace
As she aged, our mother had a level of dignity, strength, and grace that was undeniable. It was a kind of grace that we all aspired to achieve in our own lives.
She always held herself with a certain elegance that one could not help but notice. It was an elegance not born from privilege or wealth, but from pure determination to see and embody the dignity & grace in the world.
It was partly because of that elegance & grace that I wanted to do something very special to honor her and the place she held in our lives and in our hearts.
Remembering Her Elegance & Beauty
Although I am grateful for everything that she gave me and for the person that she helped me become, I could no help but be greedy…. I wanted more.
I wanted more of her smiles. I want more of her hugs.
I wanted to hear her singing in the kitchen while she was cooking.
I wanted to show her – once again – how to change the clock on her DVD player.
I wanted to watch her face light up when she was around her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.
I wanted to hear the phone ring moments after we’ve talked and know – instinctively – that it was her again because she forgot to tell me something.
I wanted to watch her dance to YMCA during the Halloween party.
I wanted to see her impeccable handwriting… even if it was just on the “to do” list that she had waiting for me.
I wanted to see the love in her eyes every time she looked at me.
I wanted her to tell me that she was proud of me.
Since we lost her, I have tried to be brave. I have tried to be strong. I have tried to live my life in a way that would make her proud and happy. I haven’t always been successful, but I keep trying.
I love you Mom. I miss you so very much.
Finding Inspiration for this Special DIY Christmas Gift
After her passing, we – especially me – had the very difficult task of packing up her belongings. She lived alone in a 2-bedroom bungalow not far from me, so I was tasked with a majority of the organization and cleaning work.
As I was packing and organizing, I came across her datebook. It included all of the appointments she had scheduled for the coming months, so I flipped through it to find anyone else that had to be notified of her passing and appointments that would need to be cancelled.
She had always been meticulously organized, so I knew that anything of importance would be written down inside her day planner.
It was pragmatic but difficult work.
Anyone who has lost a parent will understand. Although it is considered the natural order of things, there is a something about losing the people who were there for you from your very first breaths that leaves an unmistakable hole in your life.
It was difficult looking at this piece of her life, and the plans she had made but would never fulfill. But I’m glad I did.
As I was flipping through the datebook, I noticed these little inscriptions on certain days in her delicate and distinctive handwriting. What I found written there was a series of quotes that my mother had found particularly meaningful to her, each one – I can only assume – scribbled down on the day she had heard or read them.
As I looked back through the dates, I could see that this wasn’t a daily occurrence, and I could go through weeks without finding one of these little notions. But then something very meaningful to her would end up on her calendar. Thoughts she wanted to live by.
One of these quotes really struck me as being the perfect reflection of who she had been as a woman, and as a mother.
I could not think of a better quote to sum up who she had been and what she had meant to us.
She always expressed her love for us “More than tongue can tell,” as she would often say.
She made sure that she never treated any of her children as her favorites, although I’m pretty sure I was it.
And she had the utmost of integrity, sometimes annoyingly so.
The more I thought about it, the more that I knew that all of us – all of her children – needed to have this one small moment from her life captured and held onto in remembrance of her & the way she had lived. And that’s where the idea for this meaningful DIY Christmas gift came from, her day planner.
Crafting a Very Meaningful DIY Christmas Gift
I decided to design and then frame this quote, making one for each of us. Although I don’t have the greatest design skills, I believed that the thought was more important than the execution.
In the background, I used the image of a painting that had hung over her fireplace mantel for decades. It’s very subtle, especially once printed. Really was just providing the tiniest bit of texture in the background… but I know it’s there.
After that, I went on the hunt for appropriate frames. I shopped through Wayfair’s huge collection of photo frames and picked two versions, and ordered two of each. That way we didn’t all have the EXACT same print. Mostly because our decor styles were different enough and I wanted this gift to be meaningful and appropriate to everyone’s home.
I fully admit that this part of the DIY Christmas gift was not very DIY, but I had neither the skills nor the time to make my own photo frames.
After printing and framing the designed quote, the last touch was to take the piece of paper from the datebook, in our mother’s own handwriting, copy it and tape it to the back. That way, everyone would know that these were her words, and would be able to see them written out in her own handwriting.
The Finished Gift
I am really happy with how this turned out.
It was an emotional Christmas, as we all knew it was going to be. These gifts brought smiles and tears.
But, most importantly, they brought a piece of our mother – who she was and what she meant to us – into a day when we were missing her most.