Monday, November 15, 2010

Christmas In Distress

An upside-down flag indicates distress. Here's an upside-down Christmas tree!
I just started thinking seriously about the holidays. It should be a nice season this year, since I will be off on the “eve” dates because Christmas and New Year fall on Saturdays.
I realized that I’m afraid of the holidays now. Last year Mom had a stroke and one of my dearest friends passed away. On Christmas Day, we sat around Mom’s bed at the rehab center, her little dog in a Santa suit. We were thrilled that she was recovering, so it was a joyous Christmas, despite circumstances.
The previous year, my grandma passed away; she got sick just before Thanksgiving and died shortly before Christmas. She was 94 and died without suffering the ravages of her recently-diagnosed lung cancer, so her death wasn’t a tragedy. For a few years, Ging had been preparing herself to go. Part of the difficulty of living to a ripe old age is having to say goodbye to so many people you love; my grandma had acknowledged this pain. I will always remember the aching sadness across her face when she unwrapped her last Christmas present from Butch. They sat across from each other, knee-to-knee, just looking at each other silently. She was 93 and (we thought) healthy as a horse; he was 60 and days from death. You could see her desire to give him whatever years she had left and the frustration of her inability to do so. With the most tenderness I’d ever seen in her, she planted her final kiss to the top of his head. It was agonizing; I’m glad that she didn’t have to experience it again. Days after she died, one of her favorite nieces was diagnosed with advanced abdominal cancer; I’m so glad my granny didn’t have to see Jan’s suffering. Even a timely and gracious death is tough on those left.
The year before, of course, was Butch’s death. Each year since that loss, I sense my family’s desire to reclaim the holidays. Yet, our attempts to recover have been interrupted by another tragedy.
I’m not sure that we even know how to celebrate anymore.

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