That Sheila Spirit
I'm hoping everyone had a lovely Christmas, no matter how small or toned down or different it felt...I hope you ate good food, held your family close, and reflected upon this past year, filled with many hardships and challenges, but also so much beautiful vulnerability and togetherness.
It feels hard to put into words how my mom made Christmas so special every year. Her enthusiasm for life and endless talents would shine during the holidays. She'd deck our house with sparkling decorations, and fill the air with sweet smells of delicious chocolate turtles, cranberry bars, and countless other goodies. She'd pick out the perfect gifts and wrap them beautifully, and always had little surprises waiting for us. She hosted Christmas for almost 30 years, as our family continued to expand and grow...smaller groups some years, but most years close to 50 people showed up to our house, ready to stuff their bellies with delicious home cooked food. It has always been my favorite holiday. Throughout the season, my mom and I would drink cocoa and cuddle up next to the fire...and I have wonderful memories of her & I sneaking outside late at night during a big snowfall, when it would be perfectly still outside...snow untouched. She appreciated every little thing that this world had to offer. Others complain about the cold and snow, but my mom embraced it...always happy and grateful to be able to walk, breathe in the fresh air, and gab on the phone to all of her buddies. We even decided to get our dog, Bear, during the "polar vortex" in 2014. The cold & snow is still his favorite weather!
This year I tried to celebrate her as best as I could...with the help of my favorite people, of course. A new sparkling tree was picked out by my dad and I...Drew helped me place all of the ornaments (a job usually done by my mom & I)...Kathleen & I made her famous turtles...Kim lovingly helped decorate our outside pots...the list could go on. I've loved dropping off goodies and seeing so many of your smiling faces. It fills my soul when I get to be around people who knew my Mom's love and warmth like I did.
For Christmas this year, my family was able to gather at our house in Naperville. We ate good food (luckily my Mom passed on her cooking gene to Kathleen, Colin, and me!), exchanged gifts, and even got to watch some home videos...it was just how I would've wanted to spend the day...surrounded by my people (& dogs)!
I wanted people to have the opportunity to read a little bit about how my Mom made the holidays so special...here are just a few words and photos pieced together from some of our dearest friends and family. If you have anything you'd like to add, please leave it in the comments.
Love to you all, and I hope you continue to enjoy the rest of the holiday season safely...
From Kim Scharafin:
What a wonderful idea to spend time reflecting on the wonderful holiday memories of your Mom during Christmas. Of course you know I have many and all I have to do is look around my house
with all the beautiful Christmas decorations she has given me and the ornaments that adorn my trees.
One of the most fun things Sheila and I did was decorate for the holidays, we always had to discuss every inch of our houses on what we would do each year. When I lived in 7 Bridges i’d race
over to see hers and she would come see mine. After I moved we’d FaceTime during the decorating and after to give each other ideas. OF course our holiday outdoor pots were
always something we competed with, who’s was better..LOL She had admired my “Byers Choice Carolers” so it was a perfect idea for me to start her on her own collection. I also think I had
something to do with your guys having multiple trees in your house each year. When we first met I did 7 tress in my house. Your living room tree I found at a garage sale for her. I always admired her Santa collection and the nativity scene she got your her Dad.
We spent hours discussing our large family gatherings, mine Christmas eve, yours Christmas night. Not sure if you remember but I used to always come to your house Christmas night to see
her sisters and your grandparents and have a drink. We loved to discuss our menus and who would be bringing what. She would always tell me when she bought the magnum of wine for the party.
We’d laugh together as we both knew we were great party throwers.
In the early years I used to hold the BIG Christmas parties for all of our 7 Bridges friends , always a 100 in attendance! We’d do the menu and guest list together . Always a great recap early the next
morning. We knew it drove your Dad crazy. After those parties just got to big we decided we’d do girls night with an ornament exchange. Always fun and a lot less work.
After I moved I’d switched to small dinner parties then moved on to girls nights and included our daughters. WHAT FUN WE HAD!!!
Sheila was my partner for almost 20 years planning our “Cooks For Life” annual schedule. The Christmas party was always the most well attended. Sheila would always do the menu and we’d instruct everyone else
what to bring. (not surprising) Always had a great meal, fellowship and a gift exchange. We’d laugh for days over the stealing of the gift exchange. Forgot to mention at every party Sheila and I would
always dress the same and people thought we were sisters. Of course she always looked better and we’d joke about that.
“Celebrate the Season” at my church that Sheila loved to attend with me and many friends and family, was always the first Wednesday of advent and kicked off our Christmas celebrations.
As chairman of this event for 350 guests she would listen to me during the long planning process and of course she helped me plan the menu. She attended for 14 years until last year.
Not going to lie, I miss your Sheila every single day and I have our picture together that Ashley gave me for my birthday in my kitchen. It always reminds me of the wonderful friendship we had and the great memories. They will never be forgotten. Most of all at Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus and the real reason for all the celebrations. I will be having a toast in Sheila's memory on Christmas with my family, they miss her so much too.
Peace, love and hope to all of you this Christmas and always,
... and a little additional note:
How could I forget the “ cup of cheer “ walk , first Friday of December ! In the pic is a teacup ornament I got for me and one for your mom at their craft show .
I’m not even sure how many years in a row we went together . Several years with groups of friends, even my mom one time. Then we started thinking our houses looked just as good as the houses we paid money to see so we stopped going and each year after that we just had lunch and went to “ Nona jo’s” on our own . ❤️🎄
From Patty Coghlan:
It’s hard to find one word to describe my little sister the best. There’s a long list of titles, names, and adjectives......
Sister, mother, daughter, wife, godmother, Irish queen, baby of nine, artist, chef, photographer, brave, designer, clown, volunteer, baker, funny, problem solver, energetic, hard working, honest, dancer, gospel music lover, caretaker, nurturer, strong, talented, supportive, animal lover, adventurous, fearless, friend, beautiful, kind...
She was so many things to so many people, but to me she will always be my baby sister who brought such joy. I am so lucky to have had her. My life is richer because of her. I think about all of our shared moments and the feeling that stands out is the joy she brought in all circumstances. It was that light hearted happiness that she brought out in you. Holiday happiness 365 days a year. There is not a soul in our family who can ever think of Christmas without thinking of Sheila. She always brought us the light, even now. Merry Christmas Sheila. I love you always.
From Maggie Parolin:
Merry Christmas (Eve) Grace. I hope you guys have a nice relaxing few days. I am sure you will keep some traditions going. Christmas was definitely your mom’s holiday. She created a festive atmosphere between her decorations and cooking it. When I think of Christmas I think of walking in your house and being greeted by all of the Gallaghers. Mexican food galore. Decorations everywhere. Giant wine bottles to sign. Chocolate covered spoons to stir dessert drinks. Maybe a measuring contest between cousins and/ or sisters. Lots of laughter and stories new and old.
I know you will keep many of those things alive with your own twist. Merry Christmas 🎄
From Kari McClowry:
Sheila was ALWAYS the hostess with the mostess. I never understood how she was able to host so many people AND feed all of us!! It was so impressive. She always cooked the best homemade food! I remember when I was young I was obsessed with these chocolate spoons she made. And tried to recreate them at home the next day. She also made the best chocolate caramel turtles ever. I used to work at a candy store and hers were better than the gourmet ones we sold! Her home was filled with love and holiday cheer and always so welcoming! Most of all, she was just jolly + happy + always spread the Christmas spirit which is what I’m going to miss most this year.
Lots of love,
From Colleen Schmitt:
Sheila loved Christmas, and preparing for Christmas in our family home
was a huge event. It was all hands on deck. There was much to be done, setting up the tree, sifting through the ornament box, wreaths to hang, arranging the nativity scene (Sheila's favorite). Then on to outside lights and temperamental timers, Sheila was assigned those temperamental timers. Decorations were just the start, there was also hundreds of cookies to be made. Just as I felt spent, Sheila would pull out Christmas albums and start singing and dancing; the magic of Christmas was cast, and what I saw as a chore became fun. The dinner table wasn't just set, it was artfully styled by Sheila and so festive.
We grew up, married, and had children of our own. Sheila made the trip to my moms every year through pregnancies and little ones in tow to set up the Christmas tree and decorate her home.
Our family celebrated Christmas at Sheila and Terry's home for 25 years!
The family grew and it was up to a clan of 50. Christmas at the Gallagher home was spectacular, magical in every way. You arrived to their home, shimmering in lights, and entered into a Christmas wonderland, decor, a feast of incredible food, drinks and desserts all made by Sheila. She made it look so easy, because she
had planned, organized, baked, decorated, and baked some more for weeks before, it was a monumental feat. Sheila served life so generously and made our Christmases extraordinarily beautiful.
From Sissy McClowry:
I typed a list of recollections last week to Grace’s email. It appears that something in my settings was wrong. I fear it never made it through and is forever lost. The most important memory of Christmas at Sheila’s is how much fun she had hosting.
The food and decor were all perfectly created by her own artistic hand. Yet she made it look so effortless! It is obvious that her children have Sheila’s spirit. They managed to feed and entertain us all during the time that we were all saying our goodbyes to Sheila. She taught us all so much in such a fun way. Even those of us with little artistic talent probably now add a special touch like a spoon dipped in chocolate for Christmas coffee❤️
From Ashley Palmer:
As we enter into your first Christmas without your Mom, I can’t imagine how you and your family are feeling! But I also know your heart is filled with so many memories of her. My absolute FAVORITE memory of your Mom is going to your house every year to review and assess every single Christmas card the Gallagher’s received!! This was hands down always a highlight for my Mom and I. I can hear your Moms laugh so clearly as she analyzed the outfits and the poses and the horrible photography 😂😂😂 Your house would smell so amazing because your Mom would be knee deep in baking goodies, turtles, Caramels , etc.!! I was blessed to know your Mom and I know She’s with all of you each day. Sending you and the entire family so much love. Merry Christmas, Gracie!
Photos from Ruth Bell:
From Bob Hawkinson:
Dear Grace, Having helped Terry and Sheila move in to your new family home in Michigan, I know how much Christmas meant to Sheila: boxes and boxes of Christmas lights, ornaments and decorations! At this special time, I’m sure your hearts are heavy, thinking of the many family Christmas memories and the joy your Mom created. All the Christmas lights may not be lit this year but I’m sure your Mother’s spirit is burning bright in all of your hearts. We wish the Gallagher And McClowry families Peace on Christmas and in the New Year.
Bob and Sara Hawkinson and family
Photos from Sue Kaysen:
Photos from Pat & Mary Lyons:
(some especially funny NYE pics here!!)
Photos from Linda Haas:
(Christmas parties with high school buddies)
Photos from Terese Krisch: