My grandmother passed away November 17, 2019. It was not an unexpected lost. She was in her late 80s, had a plethora of health problems, and had been telling us for months — years — that she was ready to die. But it was a bit unexpected as I was told the night before she would be gone within the next couple of weeks and then the next morning, she was already gone.
There are many things I think of when I think of my grandmother.
I think of how supportive she always was about my dreams. I think of how excited she was when I published my three novels. I think of how she was always loving but very firm, never letting people get away with their bullshit.
But around this time of year, what I think of when I think of my grandmother is her Christmas cookies.
For as long as I could remember, she always baked these delicious Christmas sugar cookies. They came in different holiday shapes with icing and decorations. And they were always huge and delicious.
She gave me the recipe years ago when I wanted to bake them for my then 5-year-old oldest son’s class party. It was a hilarious disaster that I eventually managed to master.
She stopped baking them because she simply didn’t have the stamina, strength, or interest in standing in the kitchen anymore. And I took over.
For years, I’ve baked dozens of these cookies every year. I felt like I’d been given a gold medal when my father (my grandma’s son) said they tasted just like hers. I would start baking Thanksgiving weekend and not stop until Christmas Eve. Santa got these cookies left out for him.
So last year, when my grandmother passed away right before Thanksgiving, I wasn’t sure if I would bake her cookies. That’s how I think of them. They’re her cookies.
I really wasn’t sure if I’d bake them or not, and yet when Thanksgiving weekend arrived, I pulled out my stand mixer, my recipe book, and my cookie cutters and I began baking.
But this year? I didn’t bake any until last weekend. And then it was a single batch. And I only did it last weekend because the realization hit me that if I didn’t do it then, Christmas would be over and I wouldn’t have baked.
And something about the thought of letting this Christmas pass without baking her cookies was more than I could bear.
But I couldn’t figure out why I’d been so reluctant this year when last year, I wasn’t as reluctant as I thought I might be. Why would I feel so differently when more time has passed and I’ve supposedly healed from losing my grandmother?
I really had to think about this because it honestly made no sense to me. And then I realized what it was.
I was more willing to bake last year because I still felt my grandmother. She had only recently passed and I hadn’t quite fully accepted that yet. Baking her cookies helped me feel that connection even more strongly. It made me feel like she wasn’t really gone yet.
But this year? A whole year has passed. A whole year without any phone calls. No birthday cards. No Christmas presents under the tree (twice now). A year’s worth of holidays without family gatherings to talk to her and the rest of the family and hear how everyone is doing.
The connection is weaker. I know she’s gone. I can’t deny it. I can’t pretend. I have to acknowledge that she’s gone.
I have to admit that I miss her and I can’t change that with a phone call anymore.
And baking her cookies reminds me of all this. It reminds me she’s gone and she’ll never bake these cookies again. That if I have another hilarious disaster while baking them, I can’t share the story with her so she can laugh at me too. That if I don’t bake these cookies, my kids and someday my grandkids, will never taste them.
That I’m the thread that connects my kids and future grandchildren to a woman who is no longer with us but without her, I wouldn’t be who I am — and by extension, my kids and their kids wouldn’t be who they are.
And so while last year, baking these cookies made me feel closer to her, this year, it only serves to remind me that she’s gone. It only serves to highlight the fact that it’s been a year, that time keeps passing and will keep passing.
That the world keeps moving on even though she’s gone. That my life has kept moving on even though she’s gone. And that there are days when I miss her terribly and other days when I don’t even think about her at all.
And I feel guilty as hell about that.
Yet I know that’s what she’d want for me too. She’d want me to live my life, to not spend every day thinking of her and being miserable. But it doesn’t stop the guilt.
And somehow, I’ve managed to wrap all of this up in a cookie recipe.
Mixing up the dough, rolling it out and cutting it, baking it, icing and decorating the cookies… it was all tinged with the grief, the guilt, and all the other emotions I’ve just talked about.
But when I bit into my first cookie of the season? I didn’t taste grief or guilt or sadness. I tasted sugar, and love, and my grandma’s kitchen, and the memories of dozens of Christmases in the past and the cookies from those Christmases.
And I think this is holidays, and life, after loss. A strange mixture of the negative and the positive, where we put too much meaning in something as simple as a sugar cookie, and the loss hits us in different ways at different times, and it doesn’t matter if it’s been a week, a year, or a lifetime — we still miss the one we love.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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