No One Makes Pie Crust Like My Mother — Coping With Grief During The Holidays

By Mary Lou

Life has been different this year. And the upcoming holidays will be very different. That’s what happens when you lose someone you love. My mother died on December 31, 2010, and because she lived less than five minutes from us and I talked to her every day and saw her at least once a week, adjusting to a new normal has not been easy.

I’m the oldest of seven and, for the last many years, have been the enthusiastic hostess for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We made that adjustment after Dad died because it was just too hard to have Thanksgiving and Christmas at Mom’s without that wonderful man at the head of the table. Now, the head of the table at our home is gone also.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get through these two major family events and finally decided my strength comes from my attitude. If I face the holidays with dread, then they will be dreadful. So I’ve decided to summon up some creativity to put a new slant on the familiar. And by doing so, I will honor the memory of my mother.

This year for Thanksgiving, I’ll set the table with my grandmother’s dishes that were my mother’s. Then, because it’s my house, I’ll sit in Mom’s place. And since no one, and I mean no one, makes pie crust like my mother , I will make her pumpkin chiffon pie in a 9 x 13 pan. I think I may even have a small loaf of cranberry bread for each family to take home. Mom always brought one to me.

Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary is during the holidays, and, for 30 years my sister and I sent them a red poinsettia on that day. After Dad died, we switched to a pink one for Mom. This year, I’m going to send the poinsettia to my sister. I think she’ll like that.

Right after Thanksgiving, Mom always sent each of her great-grandchildren (my grandchildren) an advent calendar. That’s my job now, and I’m even going to get one for myself. When Dad died, I bought a beautiful candle that only comes out around Christmas. It’s time for that candle to have a mate, so I’m going to buy seven more, keep one and send the other six to my sister and brothers.

Christmas morning brunch will be the same menu (hard to stray from the favorites!) and I’ll use Mom’s beautiful carolers for the centerpiece. Mom made a wonderful coffee cake that had a fantastic streusel topping, but it was often reserved for funerals or friends. I’m going to make that coffee cake for brunch and probably an extra cup or so of the topping.

New Year’s Eve will present the biggest challenge—the one year anniversary of her death. We’ll either invite several friends over (I learned to entertain from my mother), or I’ll give into the emotions and rewind the tape in my heart of Mom’s last day. Either one will be fine.

I’ve learned from our bereavement staff that you go through grief, not around it. For me, this holiday season, that means using a bit of imagination to navigate tough waters. I know this won’t make it better, but it just might make it easier.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email or visit