The absence of Mum on our first Christmas was evident in the little things – there’s no one who can make beans like she did.

Last year at Elizabeth Quinn’s Christmas, the green beans were served whole, perfectly cooked and vibrant green. They were nothing like ‘Gran’s beans’
This holiday season, many families will experience an incomplete gathering due to the combination of coronavirus, distance, and expensive air travel.
The absence of a loved one is particularly poignant during this time of year, especially the first Christmas after their passing.
In last year’s Christmas address, King Charles, who had recently ascended to the throne, acknowledged the profound impact of losing a nonagenarian parent. I could relate to this, as I had also experienced the privilege of loving and losing a parent in their nineties that year. The loss was deeply felt, despite it being the natural order of things.
Last Christmas, my mother’s absence was not overtly noticeable – there was no empty space at the table – but it manifested in small details. Every year, each sibling would take charge of preparing specific dishes, such as roast vegetables and pudding. However, on Christmas Eve, my slightly panicked sister sent a last-minute text: “Is anyone making beans?”
In our family, “Gran’s beans” were a tradition: handpicked from the local market, meticulously de-stringed with a curved fruit knife, and cooked with a mixture of bicarb soda, salt, and sugar until tender and grayish in color.
My siblings and I endured a lifetime of limp and colorless “greens,” while our children adored them. Regardless of one’s preference, these beans were an integral part of our annual Christmas celebration.
Last year, for the first time, the beans were served whole, perfectly cooked with a vibrant green color. However, this upgrade was met with half-hearted appreciation.
On the previous Christmas, I gifted my daughter Helen Garner’s book Everywhere I Look. It had become a favorite of my mother’s later in life, as the short story format suited her declining memory. Inside the book, I placed a bookmark with a message of hope that my daughter would find as much joy within its pages as her mother and grandmother did.
This bookmark served as a nod to my current bookmark, which was a greeting card from my mother written in her own handwriting. The card expressed appreciation for the care and kindness I showed her, along with gratitude for our family’s love and support.
Reading that card brings immense comfort, though not every day, but on certain occasions. The significance of my gift was not lost on my daughter, and we shared a long hug, silently acknowledging the presence of our dearly missed loved one.
Every Christmas, my youngest brother creates a family calendar, a labor of love featuring photographs of all of us, including children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and plus ones. The photos are placed strategically in their respective birthday and anniversary months. Last year, my mother held the first and last position on the calendar due to her January birthday. (It’s a 13-month calendar.)
After my mother’s passing, my brother-in-law, who had rekindled his interest in painting, chose her as the subject of his first portrait. The painting captured her engaged and expectant expression, reflecting her love for being entertained and her surprise at our devotion.
This portrait was featured on the back cover of last year’s family calendar. The image depicted a smiling woman with crinkly eyes, dressed in a red jumper, and holding a glass of red wine.
Last Christmas, as we gathered around the dinner table, those fortunate enough to have grown up and continued to cherish our time with her raised our glasses in gratitude.

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