The anticipation of the night before Christmas was almost unbearable. All those big boxes, brightly colored with bows. The tree sparkled like a million galaxies, with artificial snow coating it to simulate a winter blizzard. My parents told me there was no Santa, that they were Santa, and although I loved their candor with a small child, their respect for my intelligence, a tiny part of me wish there was a kindly old man who dropped off goodies on Christmas eve. The reason for that was not what you might think. I knew my parents did without so they could buy me presents, and I would prefer some fat old white bearded ma n with money to burn, had conjured them up, than that I was benefiting from their sacrifice. Although I was just a kid, intrinsically I understood the presents were just a prop for social interaction, much as people meet for a meal, when it is not the meal, but the social interaction that is meaningful.
As children do, I grew up, and I became even MORE acutely aware of the level of sacrifice….but they would never admit it, would shield me as best they could. Neither my Mom nor Dad had advanced educations, but each excelled in their own way. Mom was self taught, and books were her one luxury. By talking to her, you would swear she had at least one PhD if not more, but at her core, she was the most caring, sharing person I ever met.
People always compared to me to Mom and said “We would know anywhere that is your son”. My Mom was a beautiful lady with handsome features that revealed her half German, half Native American heritage.
There was one thing that could be said without equivocation, one thing that all who knew her would say, and that was she loved me with all her heart, and that whatever I said, was fine.
Even when I went through my phase being a hippie, she supported me, and yes, I think she understood me. In a time of tie dyed shirts, long hair, loud rock and roll, she took it in stride, and would defend me against anyone who made comments about my long hair.
The reason was because, my Mother had that most precious of things, she had unconditional love for me. If I cursed, she would be quick to correct me, and it was fine if she did, not if anyone else did. In a world that swirled, in a world of polarization, the Viet Nam war, Mom was the eye of the storm….the quiet harbor where you can stay safe.
And, modest as our home and resources were, we always got a tree, made it look beautiful, and did our best to find the best presents we could for that magical morning of December 25th.
As young men do, I grew tired of living in a small town, and moved out to see my fame and fortune in the larger city…no, not fame and fortune, just to get away from the small town I always hated.
Mom never wanted to move from their home, and they struggled along. My father became ill with cancer which, at that time, was a literal death sentence, and Mom stayed by his side, in the hospital, til the end. I don’t know if I ever told her exactly how much I respected her for that, but I had so much respect for that, it would leave my eyes and trickle down my cheeks.
After I moved from home, Christmases started losing a bit of their glitter. Oh, they were still important, still had some magic, but the warmth of the heater on Christmas morn, me running to the living room wanting to get started on the presents, waned a bit.
As life has its way, I lived in many towns, but more often than not , was not with my Mom at Christmas…as I lived far away, and well, things just never worked out for me to get there for Christmas…that is, until my stepdad died and we moved her hundreds of miles to live near us. At some point, she started showing the signs of Alzheimers, but we always put the tree and all the presents over at her house so we could share Christmas. But, as each Christmas passed, she was less able to open her own presents and either me or my wife would do it…or at least, get it started and insist she finish.
At some point, she started declining mentally. We used tumeric, virgin coconut oil, and for a while, I had a complex set of vitamins and supplements I was giving her daily. Nothing seemed to work, and tumeric , instead of helping, made her more agitated.
In my heart, I tried to be optimistic, but in my head, I knew the statistics about Alzheimers…you die with it or from it..no spontaneous cures by magic.
I kept her at her home as long as I could, made her coffee, toast every morning, but she continued to decline, and finally, physically and emotionally, I reached a point where I realized that a professional home had the skilled nursing workers who could give her better care than I could.
The facility, bound by governmental rules, would not allow us to take her home for birthday or Christmas, so I would bring birthday or Christmas to her. She no longer could remember it was her birthday or Christmas, but I would bring the cake, the presents on her birthdays, and on her last Christmas, we bought her lots of cute pajamas, her favorite perfume, and various gifts. I had to open the presents and though she temporarily would understand what they were, and quickly forget what the last present was,
she was so appreciative, and gave my wife and me hugs and kisses of thanks. I helped her blow out her candles, and sang Happy Birthday. There was no way I could realize, this was the last Birthday, and later, the last Christmas.
I’d rather skip the hell she was put through, and my wife and I were put through by a hellish place euphemistically called a hospital …except to say that on my wife’s ashes, I swear it seemed the personnel were bent on killing her which, by their actions, before I could get her transferred, the deed was a fait accompli.
So, this year, there are the Santas with their buckets ringing bells, there is holiday music pumped through the PAs , and “Christmas is in the Air”.
But, to me, and my wife, it is merely the trappings of Christmas. The ads, the lights, the trees, the specials, merely bright lures to bring the customers into the stores for the REAL “reason for the season”…sales.
I honestly TRIED to get into the holiday spirit, but as I came across pics of Christmases past, videos of Mom opening presents, and more memorabilia that reminded me of her, I realized that this Christmas would not be a “real” Christmas to me…merely a faux, a poor knockoff of Christmas. I smile to people in stores, wish them a merry Christmas, but is is all show…for their benefit, to make them feel better, because, the child in me who adored Christmas, lost most of my fascination at adulthood, and then , my love of Christmas died September 24, 2015, with Mom. I have an urn with both my Mom and StepDad’s ashes. I put their pictures on it, and every morning, I lightly touch it and say I love you, and repeat it every evening. I know the urn is filled with just carbon, that the person who inspired me, who loved me, who was my friend for life, is not a genie in a bottle…I cannot rub the urn and awaken her. It is, in a way, kind of an oriental sign of respect for my ancestors…but goes beyond that.
It is said each man (or woman) dies three deaths. The first is when your organs stop working, your brain EEG flatlines. The second is when they lower you in the ground (or cremate you) and the third, is the last time your name is uttered in public. I make sure my Mom never suffers that last and final death.
I know all about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her Death and Dying and grieving ideas. I actually had a course in college about it and aced it. But,
that is textbook, and for better or worse, I’ve rarely ever been textbook anything.
Alzheimers is a horrible disease. I’ve lost the rest of my human and furbabies to cancer, so I know about cancer, but as long as their mind is there, even with cancer, you can connect to them, have meaningful “last words” as you prepare to release them into whatever lies beyond.
In someone’s final year, you need the ability to find out things they never told you, to make sure you have the family history right, to talk to them about their feelings and yes, to reassure them. I was robbed of that. It was like seeing Mom walk farther into a dark forest day by day and I would scream out to her, but she couldn’t respond. But, with Alzheimers, you not only lose that, but you watch that wonderful, lovable, quickwitted personality that was, at their essence, THEM.
So, the commercials, products, lights, trees, mean nothing to me, To the best of my knowledge, the first time in 63 years I will not want to participate in Christmas. Physiologically, the day my Mother died, I lost my appetite…not for a day or two…its gone for good. I now eat only when I feel I have to, just not to get sick.
So, I wondered to myself, Jack Sparrow, why are you writing this. This might be your story, but it only affects you…it’s your burden…why ruin other people’s Christmases. But then, I thought of the perennial fave, A CHRISTMAS STORY and how, although the overriding goal was Ralphie getting his bb gun, what Ralphie didn’t know was that it was not the Red Ryder rifle, but his Mom, Dad, and Brother…these were the real “presents” Christmas morning.
I wish with all my heart, I had understood this then , as I do now. In the end, its family and friends…just like Dewey Cox says here
https://youtu.be/8t7wsaZqWkM “And then in the end, its family and friends…loving yourself, but not only yourself.”
I sincerely hope you have a wonderful holiday season…but never forget…its not a race for the coolest tech, finest clothes, but, its found in the smiles and faces of friends and loved one who, after all, make it a day worth celebrating.
Thanks for reading.