Not Almost

Sigh. It feels to me like I write so much that I don’t hit “post” on these days. (I guess it feels that way because it’s true.) We have had a pretty good Christmas over here, though Joe’s idea (mostly charming, and mostly effective) that keeping busy and building new traditions will be an effective bandage for the grief we all feel this year, as we navigate our first Christmas without Tupper, my Mother and now Susan, almost backfired and took us all out. (Organizationally speaking, of course.)

We have had the gingerbread party and a ski trip with Luis and Frankie (and their parents) and we made the colossal mistake of having that trip end the 23rd, in the evening, which left just 24 hours before the big Christmas eve gathering at Joe’s sister’s, and left Joe and I alternately whizzing through shops and the kitchen all day, harried and frantic. We only had the food part (and some of the knitting part) waiting for us when we came though the door, but wildly underestimated how long it would take to put it together and culminated in Joe buying weird substitutes for things on my list and me contemplating what, exactly was wrong with ordering pizza anyway.

The answer of course is TRADITION, and you know that I think that traditions are important markers for a family, and part of the way you make home seem like home and make it so people feel like they belong, but I admit I did wish that way back in the 40s my grandparents had decided on something that wasn’t as much work as an elegant sit down dinner for everyone, or if there had to be a dinner, that they had settled on peanut-butter toast and sliced apples by candlelight.

It all came off in the end, and in many ways it was lovely, since we all had to work together to get it off the ground, and I do like that very much. The food was good, the company excellent, and everywhere we went and in (almost) every moment of our Christmas and the weeks leading up to it, there were so many moments I was able to find where I was grateful, and happy, and I only had to deal a little bit with the voice in my head that periodically whimpered like a toddler, and said things like “I want my mum” or “I want things back the way they were” or “I don’t want to do this without them.”

That voice though, I am able to recognize now, is an upgrade from last years voice. Last year’s voice of grief said “I can’t do this without her” and that turned out not to be true, and so I can see movement there – a change of a small and steady sort.

It all still feels very strange. My girls called my mum Grammy – and that’s what Elliot will call me – as soon as he can say it. Right now he very cleverly calls me Mama-mama, and though it is technically accurate and I can see how he got there, I hope it doesn’t stick. Meg’s doing her part to teach him, and so she calls me Grammy often now (instead of Mama, which we all blame for the conclusion he’s come to.) it is odd to hear that word spoken by my daughters when the person I think of as The Grammy is not here – and I struggle with feeling a bit like an imposter. My mum is so much to live up to. I know I’ll never be her, and I’m not even trying, but the role feels like a lot of pressure, especially at Christmas, when the Grammy is really the one who’s supposed to pull the whole thing together. (Also, my kitchen is a little small to be The Grammy, but I can’t really fix that.)

There were many wonderful gifts this year, but I want to tell you about one in particular. Since Mum died, we have had trouble holding our family together – being as connected as we were in the “before”. I don’t mean this little family, the one based out of this house, but the family one generation up. All my grandparents are gone, and now Tupp, and Susan, and Mum, and my siblings and I have been rather adrift, now that we are properly orphaned.  It is a credit to my mum that we are all very different people, but it does mean that what is a comfort to me might mean nothing to my sister, what I like isn’t ever what my brother does, and my mum always, always was the bridge between us. We didn’t tell each other much, we told mum, and she disseminated the information, kept all of us in the loop, and helped us speak each other’s languages.

We haven’t learned how to do that for ourselves yet, though we all care about it, so that’s a start. I wasn’t going to talk much about this, feeling hurt and sorry that we haven’t figured it all out, and maybe a little embarrassed by it, but as i open up about this part of grief, I’m learning it’s more common than I thought, and if it happened to you, maybe it would help you to know that it’s what we’re working on here too.  We really love each other a great deal, and I think that as we emerge from the deepest parts of this trip, we’ll get better at it. It will be easier for new traditions to take hold when we’re not so close to the loss of the old and special ones – when going to Erin’s house, or her coming here feels like just doing it, rather than not doing it at mums.

So, back to the gift. We were all handing out gifts on Christmas, exchanging with each other, lots of laughing and happiness, and Ian came to me with a paper bag and a big smile on his face.  “Steph” he said, beaming away, “Almost the best present ever”, and he thrust the bag into my hands.

I opened it, and inside there was yarn, already wound, and a pair of sock needles, and a pattern. “Thanks Ian” I said, slightly befuddled, but I like yarn, so that’s cool.

“No” he said “It’s not really for you. I mean it is. I was going to make you socks.”  Turns out that Ian had gone to a yarn shop, talked to the people there, been directed to the appropriate yarn, needles and a simple pattern, and had paid for it, and then addressed the one remaining problem, which in true McPhee fashion, felt like something he could fix easily. He can’t knit. Ian tried the internet, followed directions (sort of) and texted with Megan – pictures, diagrams (Meg said that most of the texts were actually about interpreting the pattern and why there were so many brackets on it.) In the end, it didn’t get off the ground. He thinks he might have cast on – but “things got funky.”

Ian was assured by the yarn store (and charmingly, also assured me) that the yarn is reusable, and you can redo it several times, without damaging it so… he wants me to teach him, and he’ll make me socks, and after the year we’ve had, I don’t have the heart to tell him.

It isn’t “almost” the best present ever. It’s there.

Merry Christmas. (Belatedly.)


131 thoughts on “Not Almost

  1. AAAcckkk! I’ve forgotten who Ian is. He calls you Steph and not Aunty Steph and he can go to the yarn store and buy things, so I’m guessing he’s a son-in-law? Cousin? Doesn’t really matter, but I do like to have things straight.
    I have four very different siblings and we’ve been orphaned for over 30 years. It’s never as close as when we all came to Mom’s, but you do get a system going, and even though most of them live far away there are text messages and emails and even phone calls (we’re old-school). It does work out.

  2. I’ve always loved reading your Christmas posts, so rich in family traditions and so full of love. This year’s is different, and yet, it’s no different. The love is still there. The making a family Christmas is still there. The craziness just before it comes together is still there. You are forging new traditions but they come out of the old ones. You and your family are blessed in your closeness and your love.

  3. Stephanie, that actually choked me right up. Pulling together can be hard, but it’s so, so worth it. (I tell myself.) (Tell me, too.)

    But don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t always turn out– you’re all trying, and that’s what matters, right?

  4. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Your brutal honesty with grief is spot on. You have to move on and create new traditions. Best of luck with teaching Ian to kni!

  5. You did it! You got through Christmas! YAY! And there is NOTHING wrong with ordering pizza — as long as you don’t order it with anchovies!

  6. That is the saddest, sweetest thing I’ve ever read from you, and you make me cry often of late. (In a good way, I promise.) I still have my parents, and your loss reminds me to treasure them while I can. Thank you.

  7. They always say what you send out into the universe is what comes directly back to you. So I am sending back to you the wave of love and support and reassurance that you release to the world through this blog. #PerseveringWithGrace

  8. The last bit made me tear up! This was a good year for brothers– mine bought me a yarn bowl (I didn’t know he knew that was a thing!). I am so, so happy that Ian thought of this for you.

  9. I go months without speaking to my two sisters now that my mother is gone. You’re right. She was the bridge. She lived with me, but she talked to them every day and I got to hear about what was going on in a second hand way.

    Then she died and removed what was apparently not just the bridge but the buffer between my sisters and me and I learned exactly what they thought of me. All of it. One huge heart-ripping wound that started many months of silence between us. I lost my mom and my sisters all at once. Then they started talking to me again like nothing happened. Maybe for them it didn’t since their opinions about my character were in no way new or surprising for them. For me, there is no bridge anymore, just a huge gaping hole. I’m glad you and your siblings are working through it in a healthier way.

    • Dear Karin,
      I am so, so sorry for your double loss. I’m sure it broke your mother’s heart to have to be a buffer.
      But please, for future reference, remember that when they said all those hurtful things they had just lost their mother, too. And anger is a close cousin of grief. And since the person one is angriest at (the deceased) is not there to receive it, often the next closest (the caregiver) bears the brunt of the anger. So perhaps what they said was an exaggerated version of what they “really” think.
      Maybe at some point you’ll want to talk to a counselor for guidance on how to approach them for a resolution rather than just “acting like it never happened”.
      My mother-in-law at 94 is going very slowly down hill and I foresee a rift between my brother in law and one of his sisters at their mothers’ passing. My heart goes out to you and to them and to all the siblings who are estranged from the people who share their childhood memories.

  10. Yep. Crying again. It all sounds muddled, but good, just as it should be. We all got together at my mom’s nursing home as she can’t really be moved except from bed to wheelchair, to lounger, Getting in and out of a car would be impossible. We brought nut bread and cookies, mints and chocolates, played Christmas music and talked until she said it was time for a nap. I’m glad you and yours are persevering. Yay Ian!

  11. I lost my mom about the same time as you and it is not easy. She’d be proud to see us still doing some of the traditions, being together and looking out for each other. Some things continued- fish on Christmas Eve though we haven’t had seven fishes in some time. New tradition- disposable baking pans on Christmas Day. Maybe even Chinese next year! But we’ll be together .

  12. Bravo for Ian – learning to knit in order to make his sister a pair of sock. Yes, best present ever. And dear Stephanie – you won’t be your mother as Grammy. You must be you as Grammy. She was precious and treasured by your daughters just as you (as YOU) will be precious and treasured by your grandchildren. It’s a lovely mantle to wear, even if it fits differently on each one of us. Wishing you sparkles and sunshine in the coming year.

  13. I have been reluctant to read your posts of late because they are raw and for me at least very scary. When my grandma was alive she was what held us together. but there were problems with her, psychotic, angry, manipulative, soul crushing, adversarial relationships with son in laws, any man in the family, and would stab you in the back, cut you down in front of everyone and anyone. You simply could not trust the woman. but every year we went to grandma’s. When she died there were no more gatherings, cousins did not keep up relationships with other cousins, sisters spoke infrequently, and in my direct family the drugs/alcohol abuse, no available stable parent, and mental illness further separated us. My mother wouldn’t, couldn’t establish traditions for the immediate family. she wanted no part of traditions. As we grew up and started our own families, careers, we became very different people and had a hard time finding common ground. My mom eventually visited/s family members that moved to other states, started celebrating the holidays with the child that she felt closer to, loved the most and it became apparent I was not that child. I was expendable and an afterthought. It simply is the way it is. There are no invites, no phone calls, but this year we got a package of treats, but no notes. It is what it is. I have slowly come to accept that and move on. This Xmas we spent it having dinner at a friends. BIG change, and it was nice. For me the scary part isn’t losing my mom, she left mentally, emotionally years ago. I kind of think of her as a box and when I open it there is nothing inside. For me scary is losing my husband. We now live in a totally different state, different kind of living (out in the boonies) different mind set. My guy, he is fun to talk to, interesting, I find out new things about him that are fun, and we can truly talk about things. He is my rock, place holder, my homing beacon that shines when my days are dark. He is to me what your mom is to you. When I read your devastating notes of longing, absence, and trying new things I think, “will this be my voice when I lose John. God I hope not.” I am making friends here in my new home, doing a little bit of this and that and worrying. What will happen to me when John is gone? How do I go on? Your post to me today says, you will go on, it is part of the process and yes it will be different so make it your own. Thank you and pizza, perfectly fine.

    • You’ll make it, Patty. I lost my rock, my beloved Don in August and managed to get through Christmas (so far) pretty well. There were a lot of tears and a heavy heart but there was also a long Facetime call with my daughter and her family, then my son and his family came bearing ham and grandchildren so for the afternoon and evening my house was “normal.” I joined the Y so I have somewhere to go to burn off some of the grief and my knitting friends are helping too. It sounds to me like you’ve started making your own life and family in your new place. When losses come, you go on, you make it through. You have The Blog, we’ll help when the time comes. Just hold out a hand and we’ll be there because we’re all a part of each other’s support system here in The Blog. At least that’s how I feel.

  14. Merry Christmas to you and yours! Thanks for sharing your struggles (I was orphaned this year at the age of 65) and it is difficult. But we are all trying as you are to honor our lost loved ones by carrying on. Thanks for the photos of Elliott–they always cheer me up.

  15. What wrong with mama-mama? That’s just Eliot exploring our language. My dad was papa, grandpa, and gramper depending on the grandkid. I say relish it, my dad did.

    • Agreed! It seems to me that Elliot has chosen what to call you, Stephanie, and it is already in play. How about going with it? Mama-mama is, as you say, accurate and it makes sense to him. You are named as a Grammy. Elliot chose what works for him.

  16. Oh Steph–I have read your blog for years and I don’t think I have ever posted a reply or comment. This one is definitely one I have to say something. I was very, very close to my Mom and I lost Mom almost ten years ago. I still miss her sooo much in hearing her wisdom for me. And hearing about my siblings!!! I still ache to want to talk to her, to hear her wisdom and to tell me what I should do in a situation. Know that you are not alone and new traditions will be all right but different. Never the same but still good!!

  17. Oh my tears flowed with the reading of this post! This year my Christmas was quite different. As my 2 siblings aren’t getting along. I decided not to prepare a family dinner. I made scrambled eggs and coffee for my mom n dad. Non traditional but satisfying.

    Wishing you and yours a happy and safe New Year

  18. And, I just ugly cried in front of my bf at the end of that post! What an absolutely perfect gift. I am beside myself.

    From earlier, it’s true that families have glue. Mine hasn’t been the same since my grandmother died. No one could take up that connecting mantle. O hope someone in yours does.

  19. I love everything about this post. I just didn’t have the energy to do much this year, but did have all my kids and granddaughter for Christmas Eve, and got stockings together for them all (uninspired I thought, but their favorite part); very low-key. It’s what I needed, but reading about yours and seeing the photos brings a happy warmth I wish I’d put together, even while knowing about the loss within it.

    Mama-Mama is exactly what you would be in Swedish– Mormor, for mama’s mama. Joe would be Farmor, mama’s dad. I had a bit of difficulty when my granddaughter was born (on my 50th birthday!) at the idea of being a grandma– grandma was my mom to my kids, or her mom to me, with all that they did– I so get what you feel like! I wanted to be called Mormor, since it’s different and I’m 3/4 Swedish, but it didn’t stick so I am Grandma with all the confusing associations it has for me.

    Thank you for sharing your Christmas with us.

  20. Merry Christmas dear Stefanie. Thank you so much for continuing through all the hills and valleys of your life to share your love of family, creativity, and commitment with us. You inspire in many ways. To carry on when it seems just too difficult, to recognize blessings that exist in every day, and to honor every day by making the most of it. Yes, you dear girl, do all that and I thank you.
    Here’s to finding and making the best in the new to to come.
    Sending love and hope for peace

  21. I love this beyond words. Your mum would be over the moon, and now all of us get to be for her sake and for the two of you. Happy sock knitting, Ian!

    Re the struggle to keep each other in the loop after the parents are gone–I watched my parents and cousins go through this after my grandparents passed, and with my folks 88 and 92, I can see the day coming when that struggle intensifies a generation down.

    My aunt threw a Christmas Eve party a few days ago and my cousin Jen was surprised and thrilled to see her old friend Eric there. She had no idea whatsoever that he was married to my sister’s daughter. They were cousins-in-law?! Cool!!

  22. Perfect…My father dies 12 days before Christmas…never the same….I keep knitting…not easy….but then I read Yarn Harlot and all is better!!!

  23. Merry belated Christmas, Stephanie!

    You’ll get there. It will probably be different from what you expect, but the love will get you there.

    After my dad and I took care of my mom until she passed, we had a hard time figuring out how to relate to each other. Fortunately, we both like art, so our phone calls were about van Gogh a lot. But we learned to talk to each other.

    One day, he asked me about dating (he had been married to his love all his life) and what women expected and how to broach the subject of intimacy. I wanted to crawl into a hole, because life really doesn’t prepare you for having “the talk” with your father. But I took a deep breath and adulted.

    It might take patience and some forgiveness (I needed both), but it will come together. And with bro socks, no less!

    • My friend had to have that talk with her father recently, along with the talk about the rising incidents of AIDS in senior citizens and the use of condoms as prevention. Talk about embarrassing

    • I can only imagine how strange that must have felt for all concerned.
      While “the talk” may have been difficult and embarrassing, it seems wonderful to me that the relationship was strong enough and close enough that a father would ask for advice. Sounds like a lot of love to me.
      Chris S in Canada

  24. This post made me tear up. My mom lost her brother today and with another uncle passing on a decade ago and my grandparents a few years ago, I really see what you mean about the generation up from mine fragmenting and it makes my heart hurt for my mom. You have explained grief so well.
    Merry Christmas and enjoy your socks!

  25. Thank you, and Ian, for a lovely peek into a Harlot Christmas. My parents, presented with the possibility of becoming grands, decided that Dad would be Pup Pup (what we sibs & our cousins called our maternal granddad). Mom would be Nana, same as our fraternal grandma. I think it was my oldest sister’s son that shortened Pup Pup to just Pup, and we all just ran with it.
    Will you have a Twelfth Night celebration? Many prayers for a healing and hopeful New Year for all your kith & kin.

  26. Lovely gift from Ian! He understands, doesn’t he? I lost my dad Christmas morning 4 years ago. Never the same, but we go on…love and light to you. ♡

  27. Merry Christmas to you all. The story about your brother knitting (or trying to) was so beautiful. It sounds like a Christmas movie plot (and I would watch that every year and cry at the end).

    I’m glad you have your family and traditions, even though it’s still hard. And thank you for sharing your experience. It’s so helpful for other people going through it too.

    Wishing you a peaceful 2019.

  28. As always you hit the nail without looking while knitting!! Beautiful written and from the heart what more an anyone ask………I think for a man to even try to wanna make socks for you is “MEGA” and leas give him a kiss for it xx I hope next year Stephanie life settles so you can embrasse being (if poor substitute) “The Grammy” and proud of it xx

  29. <3! All the best to you and yours in the coming year. Thank you for your blog, as I continue to deal with my own grief, I recognize so much in yours.
    Grace to you.

  30. My Energizer-bunny mother died in her sleep several years ago at the age of 94. It was a shock to my brothers and me because she was never sick and had been out planting flowers that day. I feel so blessed that we never had to watch her suffer and for all the love she had for each of us. But she was the glue, just as your mother was…the connection among the three kids who each live two days drive from one another. We love each other but we seem to be drifting further apart. My resolve in 2019 is to pick up the phone and have conversations with them. I hate the phone, but the emails have been dwindling of late so I’m going to try something new. I am just so thankful that we are not in conflict about anything, and that I know they would be there to support and help if ever I needed it.

  31. Hilarious that Ian thought a good project to learn knitting is socks. Well, he sees you knitting them all the time so how difficult can it be?

  32. That is an amazing Christmas gift! I hope that by this time next year, we’ll see pictures of him wearing his own hand-knit socks (and you wearing socks he knit you)!

  33. “Mama-Mama” isn’t so bad. My nephew’s firstborn couldn’t pronounce “Grandma” when he was little, so he called my sister-in-law “Gah.” Unfortunately, the name stuck. That kid is now a teenager and has a brother, and both kids still call my SIL “Gah.”

    I hope your new year is a grand one!

    • Yes. I heard of a child who garbled “Grandma” into something that sounded very much like “Bummer”. It lasted a good couple of years and caused merriment for onlookers at many a playground.

  34. I teared up as I read about Ian’s gift to you and smiled about the yarn being reusable.
    I am youngest 58 years old and the youngest of 8, my father passed in 1993 and my mother in 2001. She was the glue — everyone talked to her and she relayed to us. In August 2016 I lost my second oldest brother Bill (age 75) totally unexpectedly, and within 24 hours I got the news that a dear friend lost his battle with my cancer. Fast forward to last Saturday when my oldest brother (age 79) had a cancer caused stroke. He passed away Monday morning (Christmas Eve). He was a farmer through and through and only left the farm for those last couple of days which is what he wanted.
    Today I am thinking about my oldest sister (age 76) who is now the oldest member of our family and my older brother (age 64) who is now the oldest male in the family. I still have 4 brothers and 3 sisters, but 2 of us are missing.

    “To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.” —Clara Ortega

    Anyway — I needed to write this out and I am hoping you don’t mind that I am writing it here. I loved your post Stephanie, I love that you are making new traditions and making your way without the ones who have gone on ahead. I love Ian’s perfect gift too.

  35. So glad no one is here at work with me because the story of your brother and the socks brought a tear to my eye. What a perfect gift, even if it didn’t quite get off the ground. I’m working on being Grannie with my new granddaughter, she’s only 4 months old so isn’t calling me anything yet, but comes to me excitedly, so I’ll take that! Blessings on you and yours in the new year!

  36. Merry Christmas & Happy, Healthy, New Year to you & your family. Thank you for another lovely post & sorry if there are errors in mine as I seem to have tears in my eyes. Don’t the best presents come out of nowhere? This Christmas my son, as a by the way, asked me to teach him how to knit. He has a high pressure job & thinks knitting might loose some tension. I chuckled but said yes & am still glowing. Enjoy your gifts: brother wanting to knit; loving family; adoring fans.

    • My dear husband likes to point out how relaxing knitting is when I am counting stitches, or picking up dropped stitches from 20 rows back, or figuring out just where I went wrong…


  37. Thank you Stephanie! I always worry when you don’t have a post for awhile, but you consistently come slamming back with something so fitting and thoughtful and honest. So much of it hits home for so many of us!

    I will not have the honor of being called Grammy or Mama-mama, as I don’t have children, so no grandchildren. As I was reading, I thought of how we were never encouraged to call our grandparents anything other than grandma and grandpa – I always envied those who had a Nana or a Goompa or something fun like that. Don’t knock the honor of being a mama mama! You are important enough to Elliot to have him name you as he sees you.

    My brother also gifted me with yarn! Although for me to use. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to use two colors of lace weight baby alpaca – 1300 yards each. But I will certainly try.

    Blessed New Year to you and your family.

    • Have you tried “kiri” from
      I have a lace weight one on the needles now. Easy lace.
      Hugs from San Diego,

  38. And here I thought that picture of Joe holding you with the family was going to be the sweetest part of the post! Well done, Ian! I’m glad you had a very, very wonderful Christmas and wish you and yours much joy in the new year!

  39. I am glad you managed to get though Christmas, and as time goes on , things shift and change and re form in new ways.

    I love the story of the unknitted socks!

  40. Traditions evolve; they are meant to do so, just as families evolve, and with each new family member, we incorporate a little more richness as we add theirs to ours. And along the way, some of the old gets left behind, and mostly that’s okay. It becomes part of the nostalgia that bind us to our past, while the new bonds us together as we move into the future. It will get better with each year

  41. Sounds like a wonderful Christmas even if you have started some new traditions. That must surely be a good thing as your family expands. Hope the new year of 2019 will be a fantastic year withlot of amazing surprises to come! Wishing you and yours all the est! ❤️

  42. Oh, Ian! You made me cry! You used the Yarn Translator.
    Look at Luis and Frankie!! They’re people sized! Babies no longer. How? When?
    Are you ever going to share your vegan gingerbread cookie recipe? They look quite yummy. As if frosting is not REQUIRED to hide too thin, too bricklike, too burnt…I’m sure it’s the recipe’s fault. Yours look lovely every year and it appears everyone still has their teeth.

    Love all the books in the pics.

  43. In the aftermath of my mother’s death, I was so frustrated with the fact that it felt like the family communication had been cut. We used to just all tell mom and she passed everything on. Now I have to call them all and be the one to tell my dad multiple times. But my sis and I talked about it very honestly and set up some decent systems. my motto is “less weight, more repetitions” which I stole from weightlifting, but hey, life after loss is heavy work. We text more now and if we’re having a hard moment, we lead off with that info.

  44. Such a sweet post and a sweet family. You’re getting there just fine and chaos helps us stop thinking about the loss…Joe may have unintentionally had the right idea. Happy New Year and peace on earth (please).

  45. This made me tear up. Ian is a gem, and you are right. It IS the best gift ever. Also, I am “Mama-Carol” to my grandchildren; it sounds right to my heart. “Mama-mama” would sound wonderful to my ears as well, altho in my current case it would be “Baba-Mama” as it is my son who gave me grandchildren. Wishing you and yours a wonderful 2019, filled with love and laughter.

  46. I was really moved by the paragraphs you wrote about how it feels like your family is less close after your mum’s death. The same thing happened to my birth family. I joined them late, after my birth mother looked for and found me, but since they all lived 500 miles away, our interaction was limited to a visit or two a year, phone calls, and e-mails. Then my sister died unexpectedly, and a few years later, my birth mom died of pancreatic cancer. After that the family wasn’t as close, though perhaps they weren’t as close as I thought – that was my impression because they came together when I visited. But it did feel as if my birth mom was the glue, and the family fragmented after her death. I can say that my remaining birth brothers are as accepting of me as ever – that was no illusion – which I was afraid might happen. My adoptive brother and I are also close, and though visits are infrequent, texts and phone calls are not. What I’m saying, I guess, is that it may not be that families drift apart so much as they change when the familiar “link” is gone. At least, that has proved true for me.

  47. Stephanie – I know your blog started as a knitting blog. And I love it. It now has taken a deeper sense but even more meaningful. Your journey of grief is our journey of grief. I read comments posted by others suffering through loss and I am able to feel for them and relate to my own loss. I loved your post regarding the shortest day and I too took a photo, it was sunny and cold but beautiful and I relish the thought of longer, brighter days ahead. That helps me on my journey which I am 2 1/2 years into. The happy family posts help us all know that life does indeed keep moving forward like it or not. My knitting is my sanity and I love Ian for his most perfect gift in the world! And, for what it’s worth, I love Mama Mama. I wouldn’t discourage that moniker at all. Elliot has started a new “tradition”!

  48. You do know that in Norwegian/Swedish/Danish the word for maternal grandmother is mormor don’t you? [mor = mother] So mama-mama is pretty darn close! I like it.

  49. Before I retired I used to sob at my desk, hoping no one would hear. Now I’m home, sobbing at a different desk, but I live alone so no one will hear. Good on you, Ian!

  50. Good luck with being called Grammy. I told the kids I didn’t care what my Grandson called me. It turned out he started calling me Bama Lucy, which developed into Grandma Lucy. My name is Jane. Our dog’s name is Lucy. My husband is Grandpa Lucy! (: No one is allowed to adjust anything unless he does himself. They are just too precious for words.

    The young family members help adjust to a new celebration of the holidays but your loved ones will always be a part of it. My parents have been gone 30 years now and I still miss them each and every holiday and send thanks for such a wonderful life they provided for us. Blessings to you all for a very Happy New Year.

  51. Big thanks. We just lost our Dad. My sister and I are different people and are learning to find the new glue. It really helps to know others do this too.

    Happy knitting and teaching!

  52. Oh my, I know just how you felt about your brothers gift. The past couple of years have been rough here as well, and I am feeling a bit fragile nowadays, without the possibility of actually being fragile. You know what I mean, right? Anyway, one of my Christmas gifts this year was from my 15-yr old, whom is absolutely not interested in knitting, yarn or anything fiber related. There is not a cell within that body that has any interest in these things (to this day I am suspicious that the father of this child conceived said child with the mailman, because those genes just can not be mine).

    But for Christmas this year, I received a home made gift card, valid for a design of (my) choice, a design that we would come up with and then make together. It was the best gift ever. <3

  53. When I read that Ian had planned to make you socks I started bawling like a baby, the moments of grief and adjustment I withstood but the socks…
    So very sweet.

  54. I completely understand what it’s like, being adrift after such a huge loss. What it’s like trying to forge new, but similar, paths through the rituals of our lives. That Ian would make that leap of faith for you it more moving than you’ll ever know. My family didn’t make the adjustment and we fractured utterly. Hold your loved one’s tight, give them woolen tokens of your love and affection, and cherish your memories as you accept the title of Grammy. Happy New Year to you and yours. May it bring you Health, Wealth, and Happiness. (And lots of knitting time.) HUGS

  55. Dear Stephanie, as many of us are marching into our seasons of loss, with aging parents and grandparents, it is grueling work. My beloved grandmother will be gone 2 years next summer, and what I did not factor for was that the 2nd Christmas without her would be worse than the first. We made it through all the firsts with minimal upset, we got the recipes right for all the meals, our memories and funny stories filled the holidays. It was lovely.

    This year has been lovely too, but really who wants to be the granddaughter walking around saying, you know it actually hurts more this year to not have her here. To struggle with a recipe that she knew by heart, or to wonder just how early to start the holiday baking, the ache aches more this time around because I remember just how much she loved having us around her table.

    My parents are still very much well and alive and active in my life and that of my two sisters. We are so fortunate to have a tight knit crew of people in our day to day life. I’m hopeful that this dull sense of anxiety will calm itself down over the new few weeks as routines fall back in to place.

    Please keep writing about grief. There is no book that tells us how this goes, in real life examples and real life solutions. Your words are a balm to so many of us and we are in your boat or swimming beside it. Thank you for honestly sharing common struggles and pointing out pitfalls ahead. You are leaving a beautiful legacy for your girls, to show them how to walk this road with grace and strength. It will ripple out for generations.

    Blessings to you in the hope of a new year. Xo

  56. Blessings to you and your beautiful family. There’s always books and instructions in life for tasks, including knitting, but never enough to explain how to forge on with the inevitable loss of loved ones. As grandma used to say “yes you can miss me but shut up, put your pants on and take care of your family….”, easier said than done. Many good wishes for you in 2019.

  57. Beautifully told! We went through the no mom as conduit between the sibs. We have figured it out. Our tradition with my folks was Christmas morning brunch at their home – the home we grew up in. The year we lost my mother we were at the house taking stock of what we needed to do “next” as the process of dismantling their lives was put in motion. My nephew – then 7 years old, said to his mom and I – we can have Christmas here in Grandma’s house. My sister and I looked at each other – utterly mortified that Mark would find comfort in being there when all we would feel is the pain of her absence. We muddled our way through that Christmas. At times it felt like Christmas was happening around us. We figured it out and each year got better. And your brother – so much love!

  58. Happy holidays to you, Stephanie, your family, and to your many readers. Like many of you, the parental generation has passed away. I have a sister who usually hosts Thanksgiving and I host Christmas.

    This year, my DH wanted to see a particular concert in NYC that caused us to miss Thanksgiving with my sister and brother (was with husband and son though).

    And, for Christmas, we celebrated on Sunday, the 23rd as no one knew what their work schedule would be. My son left on the 24th to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his girlfriend. I have had the worst case of “Empty Nest Syndrome” …and I don’t want to be that person.

    Today, I attend a funeral of a friend who lost a long battle with MS. And I know several other people who are going through their first Christmas with an empty chair. So, on the scale, my loss is small.

    Finally, three cheers for Ian on his steps to form a bridge. His goal is doable. I have a friend who knit a dishcloth as her first project…and a Girasole shawl as her 2nd.

  59. OK, Knitters: this little video is SO the opposite of helpful that I just had to share–it’s just so funny [beginner knitting experience]–

    Ian will be in MUCH better hands–go Ian, we wanna see your socks!! =) (As is usual in families, he probably has no real idea of Who his knitting buddy will be (as in, how many of us would be thrilled with a personal tutorial with the Yarn Harlot?!?)–but hey, Cameron can vouch for you, Steph!!)

  60. Best. Present. Ever.
    Wishing for much peace and joy to you all in the coming New Year. The Winter Solstice and New Years Eve/Day are my favorite days of the year, full of so much possibility.

  61. Tears in my eyes and warm love in my heart…you hit a core spot in me. The journey after losing parents and other older family members is a hard and confusing one until we let go. Trying to make new connections with siblings is a path we never thought we had to make. Moms juggle the differences between siblings in the back ground. Makes us miss her all the more yet the new connections are eye and heart openers. One foot in front of the other.

  62. I just realized in the shower this morning that I have lived longer without my mother than with her. (Yes, I’m old.) Yet she is present in my life, especially at Christmas, which she LOVED! She knit our Christmas stockings until she died; then I took over as the family knitter, and now when I see Christmas photos of the grands or nieces with their kids, I see behind them the Christmas stockings that I knit — everyone in the family has the same pattern.

    Also, I want to say that every photo of Elliot declares the reason for maintaining family traditions AND starting new ones. He might as well be the reason for the season.

    And finally, yes to the practice that good ol’ Mom holds things together for the family… until she dies. My brothers and I suffered for a few years with little communication, but then I started the practice of asking on the phone “Have you talked to N (other brother) recently?” And often he had, and he’d tell me N’s news. Or the other way around. We’ve become a lot closer and more likely to call each other than we used to. (Plus FaceTime is a godsend.) I’m starting the same practice with my daughters, who live on opposite sides of the country and have busy lives and small children. Usually they haven’t, but I hope I’m planting a seed for when I’m not here.

    May blessings shower down on you and your family, Stephanie. I feel as though I know and love all of you. Best blog EVER!

  63. Dear Stephanie,

    Your comment about being the new “Grammy” reminded my of Dr Who (talk about loose association) Whenever there is a new actor (this time an actress!) they simply say that a “regeneration” has taken place and that Dr Who has a new body. The plot continues on as if there wasn’t a change.

    That might be ok for Dr. Who but not for grammies. You are exactly the Grammy that Elliot needs just as your mom was exactly the Grammy that your kids needed. You will be more than fine or good; you will be great!

  64. Thank you for your poignant post. Christmases are ever changing and so it is in our family too as we are also coming to terms with new rituals and responsibilities and finding our way.

  65. Glad to hear you got through Christmas. It’s not easy after your mom passes. My mom has been gone for three years, and I still hate Christmas. I’m so relieved when it’s over. I don’t let it show, but it really depresses me. We make the best of it. Got lots of knitting done. Love the photos, the cookies you made, and the gift of sock yarn. I wonder if the ladies at that yarn shop knew who this was for?

  66. Looks like Ian nailed your colours… hard to tell in the lighting, but definitely not pink, nor blue. Love this whole post, Steph!

  67. Actually it is better when the siblings talk directly to each other. After my mom passed, my sisters and I found out we did not know how to talk to each other. I decided I would bite the bullet and make the effort to reach out. I began calling each sister once a week. At first, it was weird, but with time we worked it out and now we are very close. I’m so glad I made the effort. I found places to buy close approximations of the cookies my mom used to bake. And we started some new traditions that have stuck. Carnation makes a fudge kit that tastes like hers, too. One piece at a time we reassembled Christmas. Now I can’t imagine Christmas without the “new” traditions. Hang in there, it will come. The hardest part to create, lots of love, you alll have in spades.
    Hugs from San Diego,

  68. Steph, big hugs and so much love to you. Your honesty and deep love of relationships, as well as your commitment to bettering the world, are wonderful and a blessing to the rest of us.

  69. I’m going to say the thing many have already said. I feel your feel about staying connected to your siblings without Mom. I still have my Dad, but he’s not the connector, she was. We got through it. I appreciate you putting that feeling into words; it helped me think about it better while it’s happening here too.

  70. Hi Stephanie,

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and you have entertained me like no other. Your post today spoke to me and made me want to share with you. We lost our mom two years ago and while we didn’t have the relationship you did with your mom, my sister, brother and I felt adrift without here here as our connection. I am the oldest and there are 11 years between me and the youngest so we didn’t really grow up together. After mom died, we all felt the need to get closer and to talk more often. And we made a point of going on vacation last year together. The first time since 1975. So mom wasn’t perfect but she gave us one last gift!

  71. I’m glad that you had a good holiday! Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year! Thanks for bringing such joy and laughter to my life and to the life of my closest knitters. : )

  72. No. Not belatedly. Christmastide is not over yet. You can still give gifts, cards and say ‘Merry Christmas” until 2 February when Candlemass (the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and his mother’s purification) are celebrated. Nope! Keep the tree up, teach your brother how to knit socks, and keep that eggnog and fruitcake at hand. Keep celebrating. This holiday is a long and glorious 40 days! We in this family are also making new traditions. Mountain pies, Christmas fires outside and staying up long after Midnight Mass is done to open presents, eat treats, drink homemade wine and go to bed at dawn.

  73. Thank you for the Christmas post! One can almost see the cog’s working in Eliot’s brain, taking it all in and categorizing everything!

  74. I worry about this to an extent. I have a large family as my parents have divorced and remarried. My dad is one of ten, my mom is one of 6, my stepmom is one of 7, and my stepdad is one of 5. I have 6 grandparents due to divorces and remarriages remaining. I have 37 cousins (with the majority on my dad’s side). I have 27 aunts/uncles not including any step families (we don’t really consider the step families our family as we didn’t grow up with them and there’s no blood relation). I have 1 full sister, 1 half, and 2 step siblings (that came around after I was out of the house).

    I honestly just don’t see how we will be able to stay in touch with so many people once our primary bridge into that family passes. My parents are the only ones from their siblings that no longer live in the town they grew up in. I can count on one hand the amount of times that people have visited us in my life and it’s always been when they wanted something. So we aren’t exactly super close with everyone when we would see them maybe once or twice a year when we traveled to them. They are all much closer as they all grew up together in the same towns.

    Now, in my 30s, my sisters and I have all scattered from our home town. So when I do travel, it’s to see them or my parents. I don’t know how to stay close to my grandparents, cousins, aunts/uncles.

    My mother has a terrible relationship with some of her brothers and because of that, we never see them when we actually see my grandma. I’m assuming that once my mother’s mom passes, we will never see that side of the family again. And that makes me sad.

    But at the end of the day, I guess that’s what happens with families as the branches continue to grow and split off themselves. It becomes closeness to the ones that grew up in your household and their kids/spouses.

    I guess I just wish I had family traditions. We were always so busy splitting time between households and everyone’s family that honestly, the holidays don’t mean much to me except obligation and long hours in the car.

    Sorry for the long post.

  75. Your story of Ian and the ‘sock’ gift left me both in laughter and in tears. What a sweet thing to do! And good luck teaching someone who really wants to make you that perfect present and who clearly thinks knitting must be really easy!

  76. My husband wrapped a present ‘to: husband, from:archi’ I was fascinated about what I was going to be giving to my husband without my knowledge. He opened it and showed me a ‘learning to knit’ set. My gift is his willingness to learn about a hobby that I love so much.

    It felt weird to talk about to other people. How do I explain this gift? It looks presumptuous and more work on the outside, but its joy and appreciation on the inside. And yet, your family leads the way in showing that it isnt weird at all.

  77. My son called my FIL ‘DadDad’ for the same reasons Elliott calls you MamaMama.
    I loved his ingenuity in figuring out what to call his grandpa.
    Be the MamaMama as that’s what he named you. You will miss.It when it’s gone.

  78. I truly love this post, and can relate on a very heart wrenching level. I agree that Mama Mama is Elliot’s choice, and is perfect! All that being said, I’m ready to see some Christmas knitting! Did you make another Advent tree? Socks? Slippers? Hats?

  79. Best present ever is Ian’s gift of brotherly love to you. (And the time and effort in attempting to knit socks – whether or not he ever finishes) is right up there as a close second. Blessings to you and yours this holiday season and for the year freshly begun. Namaste,
    Bonnie aka Knitsiam

  80. You are so far ahead of me in figuring out the family stuff of the now older generation! We are spread out on 3 coasts so getting together is difficult and expensive.
    Meanwhile the knitting continues.
    Peace and Love

  81. Over the past ten years or so, you’ve brought me much laughter, much learning, and much sense of community. So it seemed only right that I come here to read your blog one last time, a sort of silent farewell and thank you. I’ve lost everything and everyone meaningful in my life, including the will to fight debilitating depression. But you’re finding a way out of the fog. Maybe I can too. Once more into the breech, right? Thank you.

    • Stormy Marie – I hope you see this – don’t let go just yet.
      I will hold you in my thoughts and prayers – there are ways out of the fog – I have seen them – and I pray that you find the way(s) that work for you.

      Perhaps one of the ways is to keep coming here to read the words written by a woman who has so much love in her heart – for knitting, for justice and equality, for human rights, for her family – and so much humour even in her tears.
      Peace, strength, light and blessings to you.

      Aha – “touch the light bulb” – that’s for you!

    • Stormy Marie,

      You can do this! You may need to find new meaningful people, and that is a hard thing to do. But if you hold those you lost in your heart, their love and support will help you to reach out. There are so many things that you can still do!
      Knit for preemies, read to the blind, write poetry, etc. Depression is dreadful but I have found that vegetables (go figure!) and exercise help more than you’d think. Being of service to others is also helpful.
      Wishing you kindness, support, and ultimately, joy…

  82. My husband was super close to his grandfather, who he called “Pa Pa”, so he wanted our kids to have a “Pa Pa”. This worked for awhile until my father in law sat down with my kids and said that he was super close to HIS grandfather who he called “Dad Nall” and he wanted to be called that. It took about a month for them to get it right but now they don’t even remember ever calling him something else.

  83. Thank you for sharing so much of your life and family. It is a comfort to know that my siblings and I aren’t the only ones all very different, still groping for the glue that my Mom represented. Two of the three of us honor her memory and have begun to work out new relationships; the third has checked out of any effort to connect with us. I am also comforted by the old song, “Let it be…”

  84. ok…. I rarely cry but this holiday season has been hard on a number of levels for me. We suffered through many of the issues you talked about starting with the Thanksgiving holiday and continuing through Christmas. This blog brought many of those grief issues to to front and I am now in tears. Perfect gift Ian… I always tell my grown kids when they ask what I want for some occasion that I want them to make me dinner and eat it with me. The time spent with a loved one is priceless. Have fun with the socks…. and the time spent.

  85. Aw man. I got almost all the way through this post, and then something just flew right into my eye.

    I will say, regarding the traditions (although I imagine someone else in the very long list of comments before me probably already has) is that they do evolve, and I think the important thing is to identify the real core of the tradition. If the tradition is that somebody makes an enormous elegant meal that everyone gets together and eats, is every single element of that equally important? Or is the main thing the sitting down and eating together part? Because — especially if it’s one of multiple elaborate meals — maybe it’s really the latter, and maybe no one would really mind so much if it were pizza, or a vat of easy-to-throw-together chili, or something else a little less labour-intensive.

    I’ve often thought that your family’s holiday traditions do sound amazing, and I’m even a little jealous of some of them, but they also sound like an incredible amount of work. And while that’s all well and good if it’s important and you love doing it, I also think it’s OK if you need to ease up a bit, or even just take a break or a shortcut on it occasionally. Because if it becomes stressful enough to become a chore you dread rather than a cherished tradition, then it’s somewhat negating its own point.

    TLDR: Traditions are great and important, but it’s OK if they’re a little flexible.

  86. Oh my. I’m just getting round to catching up on the blog, and this made me cry so hard. I was an only child, and my parents are long gone. All my grands and aunts and uncles are gone, too, and the cousins are disbursed all over the place. I haven’t seen any of my family since my mom’s funeral in 1999, and I have cousins who live an hour away. I miss my family. We didn’t have a lot of what you’d call traditions, but they were my family. I know you know this, Steph, but you’re so very, very lucky.

    Bless Ian, and give him a peck on the cheek for me when you see him next. Tell him an old woman appreciated his gift.

  87. Aw Steph, this one made me get all teary. It was our first Christmas without my Mom, and shortly after her death in October her only surviving sibling (my favorite uncle), also died. Add to that a dear friend’s baby died and our son went to his girlfriend’s for Christmas (her grandma also died in October) because her mom, an only child, needed her only child for the holiday, and it could have been very grim, indeed. But we are also looking for new traditions and we took comfort in some old ones. It’s good to know other families are working their way through all these things, too.
    Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

  88. Gosh, that made me cry. Family is so important in how you get over these things, its so nice to know that your brother gets you. My sister isn’t a crafter, but she knows how much it means to me. Thats all that matters… she gets me!

  89. My mother died just before Christmas 21 years ago. She knew she was dying and had done her Christmas shopping in advance. It was the hardest time …. I cried through the carol service and howled as my children unwrapped their gifts from their grandmother. I still struggle with Christmas as mothers are the glue that hold the family together and make the traditions. My daughter is her splitting image and having my gorgeous 25 year old who takes over and directs proceedings is like having Mum back.

  90. The littles will keep generations bridged. We do most everything for them anyway. A bridge only fails when someone blocks off their end. As long as we keep sending our language out and over the bridge, some of it will be received. It looks like your family did Christmas just exactly the right way – with thoughts past, present and future, with family, food and friends. Those are traditions that mean something in every generations. You are doing a grand job keeping them going, teaching the littles, capturing the special moments ( sock yarn in a bag – I love it). Well done, all.

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