Christmas Eve was a bit of a letdown this year. Mom’s church began renovations on their sanctuary at the beginning of December, so all the services are being held in the Fellowship Hall, which is in the basement. There’s a live feed to a screen in a room on the ground floor for those who can’t manage the stairs, but it’s not the same. On a regular Sunday, there might be a dozen people in the ground floor room. For the early Christmas Eve service last night, there were six of us, including the two ushers who handed out the battery-powered candles. Mom and I were alone in our row, and she must have asked me six times why we had to sit in the “overflow room” instead of with the rest of the congregation. Each time I explained about the renovations and the steep flight of stairs to the basement, I felt more frustrated with the church for beginning this renovation project right before Christmas; and I prayed this subpar experience doesn’t end up being her last Christmas Eve service.
The candlelight piece felt particularly lacking. The passing of light from one candle to another until the whole church is aglow has been my favorite part of Christmas Eve services since childhood. It lacks something when everyone turns on their “candles” at the start of Silent Night, instead of passing the light, but it still works in a big sanctuary full of celebrants. Holding our two lights as we sang, unable to see any of the other lights because everyone was sitting behind us, struck me as rather apt for this particular year — and perhaps that was the lesson for me. Sometimes you have to make your own light in the darkness.
Since Mom can no longer manage the steps into my apartment building, we headed to a local restaurant for our turkey dinner after the service. The restuarant was festively decorated and busier than I had anticipated; and to their credit, the staff provided excellent and very cheerful service. Mom complained about her soup, but she enjoyed the turkey and mashed potatoes… and she ordered a second mug of hot chocolate for dessert. On the drive home, I took a detour to look at Christmas lights, which she always enjoys.
As we pulled onto the freeway, she asked me “Am I staying at your place tonight?” I felt a pang of regret as I explained that I was taking her home (“so you don’t have to struggle with the stairs at my building”) but would come back the next day to open presents — but she didn’t seem unhappy about it.
Our Christmas afternoon was really quite pleasant. I arrived shortly after lunch, bearing Starbucks holiday beverages and a store bought pumpkin pie. The staff set us up right next to the tree to open our presents, and we had the room to ourselves since the other residents were either napping or away with family for the holiday. We opened our presents one at a time, read the cards aloud to each other, and Mom tried on the festive outfit from my sister. Then we sat at the dining room table to eat our pie and play a couple games of Scrabble.
When the staff started getting ready for dinner, I helped Mom back into her recliner and kissed her goodbye. Merry Christmas, Mom. I’ll call you tomorrow.