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New Easter Traditions After a Season of Loss

After losing my mother-in-law to Covid, I celebrated her favorite holiday, without her.

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Originally posted in Moms Don’t Have Time to Write.

I don’t usually cry about it. My mother-in-law passed away late last summer from Covid. And while that was a horrific and traumatic loss, one that I witnessed firsthand while trying to facilitate her care from afar alongside my husband, Kyle, and his sister, Stefanie, I typically try to remove myself emotionally.

After all, I rationalize, Kyle and Stefanie are the real victims of this loss. It was their mom, not mine. My mom is ten years older than Susan would’ve been and just got a puppy, whereas we’ve adopted Susan’s dog, Nya. It isn’t fair. Any of it. So I try to keep my own feelings at bay.

But today, I cried. I cried while snuggling with the two younger kids, reading them “How to Catch the Easter Bunny.” Easter is the time I most associate with Susan. Before marrying Kyle, my second husband, I’d never really celebrated Easter. But his mom made Easter feel like the biggest, most amazing extravaganza, just by doing little, special things. She would personalize baskets or sandcastle buckets with my kids’ names and stuff them with thoughtful gifts. She would lovingly affix stickers aligned with their ever-changing interests.

She’d send us candy, Peeps, chocolate bunnies, egg-dyeing kits. Many times, we’d spend the day together, once all together in a rental home in Kiawah Island near her home in Charleston, SC. The kids found Easter so exciting that my littlest one actually made his December birthday party theme “Easter” two years ago.

Susan with Kyle and Stefanie.

Susan took joy in the moment and it made me find joy I hadn’t noticed. The glee in my son’s eyes as he discovered a hot pink plastic egg under a chair and popped it open to find a glimmering chocolate kiss. The simple wonder of that thrilled him — and me. Her little gifts started trickling in weeks before Easter, making the countdown exciting.

This is our first year without Susan on Easter. Nothing arrived in the mail in the past few weeks. I didn’t extract Easter buckets from discarded Amazon boxes shipped from the local UPS store. But I did get a delightful invitation to join for an Easter Egg brunch at Kyle’s dad’s and his fiance’s new apartment, right by ours. Kyle’s parents had gotten divorced soon after Kyle and I got married. In the aftermath of losing Susan, his dad and Miriam stepped in and helped us immeasurably.

In fact, we’ve become a crew of friends; I’m six years older than Kyle and Miriam is younger than Bernard. Turns out Miriam and I are only four years apart. We laugh often and have fun together, as peers, not just family.

So I was looking forward to going there knowing Miriam, like Susan, would attend to every detail and make it special, unique.

Our Easter crew: Stefanie, Kyle, Miriam and Bernard

But this morning, still in our jammies, I cracked open the Easter book and started crying on the first page.

“Mom’s crying!” my son announced, looking closely at my face as if reading too fine a print.

“What?” my daughter said, looking in for a better view. “Why?”

“You guys, do you know whose favorite holiday today was?”

Silence. Then, “Treats?” (My kids called Susan “Treats.”)

“Yes,” I said. “Treats.”

“Aw, that’s sad,” my daughter said.

“Don’t cry, Mom,” my son added, nuzzling in my lap.

I tried to start reading again but I just let myself weep, covering my face, the kids stoically stroking my back and hugging me.

“It’s okay, Mom,” my little guy offered.

“We love you.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s just so sad that she doesn’t get to be here today.”

After a few minutes, I wiped my eyes. I started reading, crying at first, but finally regrouping. And then it was on to the next tantrum about what to wear to the Easter brunch and a quick trip to the Gap when I realized none of my daughter’s nicer outfits fit after a year in quarantine. The day moved on.

The brunch ended up introducing new, wonderful traditions. Miriam and Bernard met us in the lobby of their building with beautiful cloth baskets and hand-written notes. Miriam had each child hunt for a different color egg so it was “fair” and hid them in more age-appropriate places. (Genius!) She also gave each child several extra eggs to give to the doormen and other special people in their lives. Brunch was perfect with every type of food to meet all of our needs, including the fact that we were also observing Passover. Hot dogs, frittatas, salad, fruit, matzo, and smoked salmon. A mix. Just like us.

Funny enough, those exact same chocolate bunnies were waiting for us at the brunch, but this time, they had multiplied.

As Easter comes to a close, I realize, yet again, that in the wake of the saddest moments come unexpected joys. That life does go on. That even if the people we love can’t be here to celebrate with us in person, they’ll always be there in the remembered moments, tucked away in our minds.

Holidays and rituals will continue long after all of us are gone. Today’s egg searchers will soon be grandparents, and then, not. So it’s the people we spend these special days with in our one shot at life that make all the difference. I’m honored to have crossed paths with Susan and to have inherited her infectious love of Easter. And I’m delighted to now be a part of a new crew.

My plastic egg today didn’t have a Hershey’s kiss inside; it was filled with real, everlasting love and new, lifelong bonds. And for that, I am immensely grateful. I’m sure that Susan knows that, wherever her soul is tonight.

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