Heartfelt Holiday: A Family Begins New Traditions

After the untimely deaths of their husbands, a woman and her mother-in-law join to forge festive new traditions for the kids.

Moran Family
Photo by Laura Moss.

When newlyweds JoLynn and Brian Moran moved into their New Vernon home in 1999, they could not have been happier. Among JoLynn’s blessings was a warm relationship with Brian’s parents. Indeed, when the couple’s first child was born that same year, they named him Joseph Brian Moran III, after Brian’s father. The relationship had a practical side, too. JoLynn gladly turned to her mother-in-law, interior designer Suzy Moran, for advice on decorating the new house.

“Suzy and I have always had the same taste,” she says.

In 2003, JoLynn became pregnant again. Her joy was brief. In November, Brian died suddenly, plunging his family into mourning. Three months later, JoLynn gave birth to Lily.

Nearly five years later to the day, Brian’s father, the first Joseph Brian Moran, died. Suddenly, Suzy and her daughter-in-law had something else in common: widowhood.

Over time, the two women have banded together to retract the shadow these events cast over the holidays. Memories of the lost father and son still loom at Christmas. But JoLynn, undaunted, says, “We work really hard to make it cheery and full of life.”

JoLynn has always enjoyed holiday decorating. In early December, she brings her large and lovingly collected boxes of decorations up from the basement, a job that takes two days. Each item triggers a memory—a trip with Brian, a gift from a holiday party they attended together or a memento from her childhood. Her favorites are school projects from Joseph and Lily. “Every ornament on the tree is handmade by the kids,” she says. “It just puts a smile on my face and on the kids’.”

Moran Family

Photo by Laura Moss.

JoLynn and Suzy both have Polish backgrounds and, of course, married into the same large Irish family. With the kids in tow, they drive each year to a Polish deli in Linden to buy kielbasa, sauerkraut and pierogies for an ethnic lunch on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Suzy always sleeps over at JoLynn’s Christmas Eve, even though she lives just three miles away, so she can be there bright and early when the kids open their presents. For Christmas dinner, they all repair to a nearby cousin’s house for a gathering of some 20 friends and extended family.

JoLynn and Suzy are quick to count their blessings; they get along exceedingly well, speaking by telephone each day and sharing frequent dinner dates with the kids. They travel together as well, recently visiting Ireland to commemorate what would have been Brian senior’s 70th birthday.

But most important is the time they spend together at each other’s homes, especially in the service of creating new holiday memories.

“Thank God for the children,” JoLynn says. “They help us through the hard times.”

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