No Sugar Added: The gift of remembrance

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As Christmas approached, three things were glued to me. Like additional limbs.

No, not my trio of children. Their “wish lists.” They never left my side. Folded up, in my purse, the back pocket of my jeans or between the pages of my Filofax (yes, I said Filofax. I like paper, remember?). These lists remained close at hand at all times, in the event I found myself out and about, with time to do some spontaneous holiday shopping.

List No. 1 was artistically written, with a large dollop of style. Curly-Q lettering and perfect spelling. The second was charmingly imperfect. Numbers out of order. Spelling errors. The third, was, well – at first I didn’t even realize the third was a list. Designed via computer and printed out on our Canon printer, it was a testament to modern technology. Not only did it contain images in precise, matching rectangular outlined boxes with names of items, but my middle child was also kind enough to offer price comparisons and discount alerts. How thoughtful of him.

They reminded me of the lists they used to write when they were much younger. I’ve kept some of those lists, from the days when Santa’s existence was yet to be doubted. They remain frozen in time, stashed in the top drawer of the antique oak bureau Drew and I purchased one summer on Cape Cod.

Every so often, I open the small box labeled “special stuff,” take out the folded treasures and read them, allowing each one to soak into my pores and settle into my heart.

As I carefully unfold each tiny origami-esque shape, I’m transported back to days when we stayed awake, bleary-eyed, wrapping gifts at 2 a.m. after the baby had fallen asleep, finally, and before one of the older of the three children had awakened, listening for sleigh bells.

There are lists scrawled on thin, notebook ruled paper, heavy construction paper and on odds and ends torn from who knows where. Crayon and marker. Pencil and ball-point pen. There are alphabet letters written backwards and upside-down, misspelled words, and papers littered with fingerprints and smudges.

Letters dictated to us by children too young to write their own letters to Santa and by children proud to show off their new-found ability to write and spell all by themselves.

Now that they are a bit older, they often ask for things that make me smile. Things like quirky vintage treasures and acting lessons and family dinners at restaurants. Things that can’t be found in a department store.

Although I love to surprise them with things from “the list,” I’d like to think the greatest gift I give my children is the gift of remembrance. With stories and laughter, I keep their father, and other loved ones, alive in their hearts.

Many people get sentimental about loved ones they’ve lost when it’s holiday time. My husband happened to die the morning after Christmas. The funeral was on New Year’s Eve. I don’t tell you this for sympathy, I tell you this because, well, Hallmark couldn’t make this up if they tried.

Because of this unfortunate timing, I’ve had many wonderful people – friends and acquaintances of Drew’s – take time around the holidays to share sweet, funny and heartfelt stories and thoughts. I know how much it’s meant to me over the years.

Last December, someone Drew had mentored in the film business gave me a wonderful gift. A DVD. Seven minutes of Drew, age 25, walking around his office building in Boston, back in the mid 1980s. I watched it, and there he was. Alive. Laughing. Smiling. Trying to look cool in his Ray-Bans. It was magic.

The man who sent that was, for me, not unlike the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Most people tip-toe around loss, because it’s uncomfortable. Or maybe they fear causing additional sadness. We live in the present, but we only got here by having a past. And if we are lucky enough to have had a past filled with people who loved us, but aren’t with us anymore, remembering them and passing on those loving memories is the greatest gift of all.

May your new year be filled with the sweetest of memories – both old and new.

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No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at or contact her at