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I honestly can’t believe it’s been a year since my mom lost her battle to Alzheimer’s.

Before her passing, I guess I didn’t know much about grief. I thought I did; after all, I’d been grieving for years as I watched her slow agonizing decline. Indeed, that was a form of grief, but not the same as what I’ve been experiencing over the past year.

Last weekend felt like a bit of a turning point. On a cold, blustery winter day, I felt the warmth of Mom’s loving presence as I thought about holidays past.

Over the course of our Alzheimer’s journey, holiday traditions gradually slipped away. Somehow, it was easier to create new rituals than it would have been to try and carry on old ones. Without the woman who had always been at the center of our celebrations, the holidays didn’t feel like the holidays anymore.

Bittersweet Memories

My mom loved to bake, and at our house Christmas meant TONS of cookies. When I was growing up, it was nothing for her to make a dozen or more different kinds, all from recipes handed down over the years. Our kitchen smelled heavenly as batch after batch came out of the oven. For friends, family, and co-workers, the approach of the holidays meant Marilyn’s cookies were just around the corner!

When Alzheimer’s entered the scene, Mom’s baking tapered off, and for a while I continued. However, as she got worse, it just didn’t hold the same appeal. We made pizzelles together for the last time in 2009, and by then, her attention span and focus was such that after a few cookies, she lost interest. My favorite memory of that year was watching her eat them “hot off the press” – I don’t think any of her cookies even made it to the cooling tray!

Years earlier, we had stopped making hardtack candy, another tradition that dated back more than four decades. Each Thanksgiving, the thought crossed my mind – I should make the candy – but, at the end of the day, without Mom, what was the point?

Feeling Her Presence

And now here we are, 2013. The first snow has fallen, the stores are filled with excited shoppers, and Christmas lights are popping up all over the neighborhood. Last year at this time, I was at Mom’s bedside in a hospice facility. Waiting. Thinking. Wondering. Praying.

Last weekend, I made the hardtack candy for the first time ever without her expert hand and watchful eye. It felt like the rekindling of a beloved tradition. As the syrup bubbled on the stove, the intense scent of lemon and spearmint oils filled the kitchen, and a dusting of misdirected powdered sugar covered the floor, I felt pretty certain her expert hand and watchful eye were still with me after all.

This coming Sunday will mark one year since Mom’s death, and my daughter and I have dubbed it “Gram’s cookie day.” We’ll spend the day baking, laughing, and most importantly remembering the good times.

It feels good to bring back these traditions, and I know it’s what she would want…

Following Your Heart

This is such a challenging time of year for Alzheimer’s families regardless of what stage your loved one is in – or if they’re no longer here with you. We simply do the best we can, follow our hearts, and seek out joyful moments.

How are you handling the holidays? Are you carrying on old traditions or do you find that new ones are beginning to evolve.

Whatever you’re planning, remember to be kind to yourself…

Happy Holidays…