My mom came over on Christmas Eve last year, and I wasn’t even all that happy to see her. I was busy trying to wrap the last of the presents, and I was so scared of COVID-19 that I hadn’t really done any in-store shopping, and I was realizing with deep dread that I was going to have to venture out to the drugstore to buy some last-minute stocking stuffers. I was stressed and frazzled and sad and weary (even then) of the pandemic. So when she dropped by for an unexpected masked porch visit, I wasn’t as excited as I should’ve been.

Still, though, I went out on the porch to visit and make plans for the next day. “Do you want anything to drink?” I asked, mostly just to be polite. My mom was never much of a drinker.

“Actually,” she said, “I’d love a little bit of cognac if you have any.”

I went in to check and came back out.

“Sorry,” I said, returning empty-handed. “We don’t have any.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” she said. “I just like a glass of cognac sometimes when it’s cold.”

After a few minutes, I told her I had to go to Walgreen’s but would see her the next day.

At the store, I filled my cart with Reese’s peanut butter Santas, cheap nail polish, bath bombs, markers, LOL Surprise dolls, hair chalk, and other assorted crap that my children would probably never use but which I still felt the need to give them for some unknown reason having to do with the interplay of capitalism, marketing, and maternal guilt.

As I hurried toward the checkout, I passed down the liquor aisle and saw bottles of cognac. They were $50 each, and I’d already spent too much on my kids, and I already had a gift for my mom, but it seemed like the thing to do, to buy her a bottle for Christmas.

I put it in my cart. Then I thought of the money, turned back, and put it back on the shelf. Then I thought of my mom, turned back again, and put it in my cart and checked out.

It definitely was more than I’d planned to spend, but when she came over the next day, to visit in the cold on Christmas Day, she was so delighted when I presented it to her.

“You shouldn’t have,” she said, but in a tone that let me know she was glad I did.

We sat out in my backyard all afternoon, shivering and sipping cognac together. I had absolutely no idea it would be her last Christmas, that, in fact, she had only a little more than four months left to live. I’m glad I didn’t know. I wish I’d known. It’s so hard to even parse out what I feel about the whole thing, except sad and still, more than seven months later, shocked.

When I cleaned out her home after her death, I found the bottle, almost full. (She really wasn’t a big drinker.) I hope, though, that she drank a few glasses before she died and thought of me.

So this year, buy the cognac. Live it up. If you want to give a gift to someone, don’t hesitate. You never know what the year ahead has in store.

As for me, I plan to drink a glass of cognac in her memory and take a moment to remember all of the 40 Christmases we had together while mourning the fact that we will never have any more.

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate, and happy new year to all of us.

May the holidays be gentle for you this year.