Tag Archive | holidays

A different kind of Christmas

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.

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Christmas Eve Selfie

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.

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Celebrating her 90th Christmas, and she still enjoys her books!

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Another year, another holiday party

Today was the annual holiday luncheon at Mom’s care home. Yesterday I took her to get a haircut and roller set, Mom Headshot 12-9-17and the stylist did a really nice job. Mom looked lovely in her new sparkly green Christmas top, and she seemed to be feeling pretty good. She enjoyed the Honeybaked ham and, especially, the assortment of fancy deserts like macarons, ladyfingers and bon bons. And because it was a special occasion, they let her have 2 1/2 cups of coffee with her meal. (We just won’t tell the nephrologist about that.) My niece was late arriving, and it gets hard to make small talk with Mom these days, so I broke out the Scrabble game to keep us entertained.

Again, it was one of those parties where the guests only talk to the residents they came to visit and to the staff. But Jenny did make a point of introducing us to her brother (at least, I think that’s who he was) as he was seeing her to her room before departing. I also overheard another resident’s daughter talking about her 90th birthday next Thursday, the 14th. My dad’s birthday was December 14th. He would have been 92 this year. As I was sharing that with them, I realized that it was 10 years ago this month that he died. It feels like another lifetime. I was a different person back then, and so was Mom.

We both enjoyed catching up with Sarah, who took a break from finals week to come celebrate with her grandma.

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I’ve been a little short on holiday spirit this year, but it sure was nice to see Mom feeling festive and enjoying the celebrations. Mostly I’m just thankful that we made it through another year and she’s still kicking… or, as she always used to say, “perking right along!”

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Thankful

Thanksgiving was a little different this year. I’ve had to accept the fact that the days when I could have Mom come and stay with me for an entire holiday weekend are over. The seven steps into my building are impossible for her to manage now. My best friend graciously offered her ground floor apartment for our co-hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I was thankful that Mom was able to join us for the meal. Mom usually enjoys our lively gatherings, but wasn’t feeling very sociable this time. She was too tired to even concentrate on working a crossword puzzle and barely stayed awake long enough to eat. I took her back to her care home before dessert had even been served, but I saved her some pumpkin pie.

I brought the pie over today, right after lunch. Mom was, again, almost too tired to eat, which worries me. As I said to her, “It’s not like you to be uninterested in PIE!” She did finally finish her small slice, then almost immediately started dozing in her recliner. I sat with her for about an hour, watching figure skating on TV and chatting a bit when she woke up long enough to remember that I was there.

They’re tapering her off the supplemental oxygen during the day, per doctor’s orders, and her saturation has been staying around 94-95. But when I checked it today, she was only at 91. I sure hope this isn’t an indicator of fluid building up in her lungs again. Thankfully, we see the pulmonologist for a follow-up chest x-ray this coming Wednesday.

Despite the changes, I am deeply thankful that Mom is still here with me and that we were able to share Thanksgiving dinner.  I don’t know what Christmas will look like yet, but the only gift I need is to be able to share it with her.

Thanksgiving 2017

 

Christmas Trip, Part 2: Ritual and Tradition

Every other year, all through my childhood, we spent Christmas in Ohio with my mom’s family. (On alternate years, my dad had to take his turn as the on-call anesthesiologist.) I looked forward to those family Christmases so much, I think I started counting the days in September. The big family tradition was a Christmas Eve potluck, the whole clan coming together at my Uncle Fritz and Aunt Ellen’s house. I fondly recall my cousin Betty’s delicious pies and singing Christmas carols all together and Uncle Fritz dressing up as Santa to hand out the presents. I remember, as my generation grew up and started having kids, how crowded that little house became — tables laid end to end from the kitchen all the way to the front porch — and how full of love and laughter it always was. I remember falling asleep on Christmas Eve next to my cousin Susan, with her brother camped out on the floor beside the bed so my parents could have his room. “Shhhhh!” he would say. “Did you hear that? It sounded like sleighbells!”

Until this year I hadn’t been back to Ohio at the holidays for over two decades. The torch has been passed to the next generation, and my cousin Frank and his wife are now the hosts for Christmas Eve. Over the years the exchanging of gifts has evolved into its own ritual. Everyone brings one gift and they are passed around the circle as my cousin Robby reads The Night Before Christmas. It was fun to see him in that role, to watch him be Uncle Rob to a whole new generation of cousins.

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After the story and the gift exchange came the carol singing, which has always been my favorite part of Christmas Eve. Songbooks were handed around and, as I heard my family’s voices raised together in song, I realized just how much I had missed being a part of that. I got a lump in my throat when, on a lyric about Mary with the babe in her arms, my eye fell on my cousin with her toddler daughter sleeping on her lap.

I think my favorite moment all night, though, was when the group skipped “O Christmas Tree.” My cousin Shellyn, sitting next to me, tried to insist that we sing it but wasn’t being heard… so I just started belting out “O Christmas Tree.” Shellyn and her sisters joined in, and we drowned out the other song until everybody was singing “O Christmas Tree.” For a few moments I was a teenager again, instigating with my cousins.

Mom loves the singing, too, and she loved seeing the whole family at once. And Betty’s pies are as good as ever!

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Me, Mom, and my Aunt Alice – Christmas Eve

 

I’m a big one for rituals and traditions, always have been. It makes me melancholy to consider that my particular branch of our family tree ends with me, that there is no next generation to whom I can hand down the boxes of my mom’s old family photos or into the toe of whose Christmas stockings I can place the traditional tangerine. But my cousins on Mom’s side are keeping the family tree healthy and I think our traditions are in good hands.

Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past

It was three years ago this week that I started this journey with my mom, as Facebook helpfully reminded me – calling up in its Memories section those angst-ridden first posts about her car accident, the fear of a possible stroke, the irrefutable discovery of dementia symptoms. I remember how scared I was for her, how helpless I felt being far away, how much I worried about making the right choices on her behalf. I didn’t feel up to this new level of responsibility that had been thrust on me overnight.

Two years ago, Mom was recovering after another hospitalization and I didn’t know if she’d be out of skilled nursing in time to spend Thanksgiving with me. She entered my apartment in a wheelchair, my friend having thrown out his back helping me haul her and the chair up the seven or so steps into my building, spent much of the visit sleeping and only ate a few bites of the turkey dinner. I thought I’d have to move into an accessible building if I were ever to bring her to visit me again. When I drove her back to the assisted living hotel the next day, we found the roof leaking and she had to be moved into another room – and I fretted and stressed about leaving her there alone.

How thankful I am that this year she could climb the steps on her own (with me at her side, of course, holding her steady) and had the energy to enjoy a lively Thanksgiving dinner with my friends, even after a relatively late night at the Thanksgiving Eve service at her church. She ate heartily and said many times how much she enjoyed herself, though she did retreat to the sofa with a crossword puzzle as the evening wore on. (One of the advantages of old age, I suppose, is you don’t have to pretend to be engaged in a conversation that isn’t holding your interest. You can just go do something else!)

And I am thankful for my friends, who make a point to spend time talking to her and treat her kindly and don’t laugh when she talks or sings to herself while working her puzzles.

We got off to a shaky start today because she said she didn’t need to visit the bathroom and I didn’t insist, and then she had an accident. She seems so much like her old self these days, I sometimes forget just how much help she still needs. But I got her cleaned up and dressed in fresh clothes, and  after we had pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast she insisted on helping me with the dishes. Then she took a nap on the couch while I got some work done on my computer.

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When I took her home this afternoon, it was to a place that has truly become her Home, a place I am thankful for every single day. Life is good, and we are truly blessed, both of us. So thankful.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day

This is the first year I’ve been able to spend Mother’s Day with my mom in… well, longer than I care to think about. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular day. I took her to church, as usual. I opted not to take her out for a meal today, since I can no longer take her to fancy places and crowds are problematic with her mobility issues. Besides, we just went out for dinner on Friday after her follow-up with the cardiologist. So I brought her home to have lunch with the other ladies, while I ran to Trader Joe’s to pick out flowers. That’s our Mother’s Day tradition, if we have one. I’ve sent her flowers every year for the last decade.

When I stopped by with the flowers after lunch, I saw that the living/dining room was already filled with flowers and Happy Mother’s Day balloons – one for each of the residents. I arranged the flowers in a vase I’d brought and set them on the dresser in Mom’s bedroom. I found the perfect card, one which said everything I wanted to say. (Belatedly, I’m wishing I had taken a picture of it to post here.) In essence, it expressed my gratitude for all the things she did for me when I was growing up and my happiness at being able to repay even a fraction of that love and care to her now. She loved it. And the flowers were a hit, even though I was joking with the staff that the house was starting to look like a flower shop.

(Speaking of the staff, I really feel blessed to have found this place. They are so attentive and so sweet. When I came to pick up Mom for the doctor on Friday, she asked me if I had a nail file because she’d broken a nail. One of the caregivers immediately brought out her nail clippers and file to take care of it, offering to give her a manicure the next day. When I brought her back after dinner that evening, Maria answered the door with a warm smile… and Mom hugged her. In that moment I knew for sure that I’d found her the right home.)

I spent the afternoon with her. We played Scrabble with her pal Georgia, which was a lesson in patience for both of us. Georgia didn’t know how to play and didn’t seem to grasp the rules well — she kept wanting to play words upside down, or make a word that didn’t connect with other words, and we had to keep reminding her to wait her turn. But at least it got them to exercise their brains for an hour instead of just being parked in front of the TV. When we finished the game, Georgia retreated to her recliner and I took Mom to her room to look at the flowers. She stretched out on her bed for a nap and I sat beside her, holding her hand.

At one point, she looked up at the portrait of her and Dad (taken when I was in high school) that hangs on the wall beside her bed. She commented on Dad’s smile in the picture and said that she lost him too soon. “It’s always too soon,” I said. “But you had a lot of good years together.” How many? she wanted to know. “Let’s do the math,” I said. We worked out that they were married for 44 years before he died. “It goes by so fast,” she said. Then she wanted to know how old he was when he died. I told her that he died eleven days before his 82nd birthday, reminding her of how we had birthday cake for him while the family was gathered for the memorial service. This led to talking about her birthday coming up next month: 86. I told her we’ll do something special. She rolled her eyes and said “Turning 86 is nothing to celebrate.”

“Hey,” I said. “Celebrate that you’re still here, that you made it through another year. Even if YOU don’t want to celebrate that, I do.” She smiled and squeezed my hand. “I’m sure glad that you are here,” she told me. “So I guess I can understand that you’re glad that I’m still here too.”

So this is Christmas…

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun…”

Many years those opening lines from John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” have haunted me with a sense of a wasted year. Another year over and no closer to writing my memoir or getting out of debt or accomplishing any of the other goals that I set for myself at the start of the year.

Not this year.

What have I done this past year? I moved my mom out of her apartment and into assisted living in January. I took on the responsibility of having her power of attorney, managing her finances and being her healthcare advocate. With the help of my brother and sister, I cleaned out her storage unit. Then I found her an assisted living facility close to me and, again with my brother’s help, moved her from Arizona to California. I think I can confidently check off “be there for my mom” on my list of resolutions for 2013. Done and done.

So, for once, it’s with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I look back on my year.

With so much going on, and especially with my mom being ill most of November, I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. I never got around to sending cards or putting up any decorations. But last night I had the opportunity to do a small thing that filled me with holiday joy.

While shopping for stocking stuffers for Mom and me at the drugstore, I saw these soft fleece throw blankets on sale 3 for $10. I bought three, one for each of my mom’s table mates at the retirement community, and I also picked up some chocolate truffles for each of them. I delivered the wrapped gifts at dinner last night, telling the Muslim couple with a smile that I understand they don’t celebrate Christmas so they can call these “Happy New Year” gifts. The woman looked in the bag I handed her and exclaimed that it was too much. No, it’s not, I told her. They’re just little things, to say thank you for making my mom welcome here. Her husband smiled at me across the table and said “Thank you, habibti” (Arabic for “sweetheart”). I was touched by the endearment and he seemed pleased that I knew what it meant. They put the gifts aside to open when they visit their daughter.

But the real joy came when my mom’s other table mate, an Italian gentleman I’ll call Dominic, chose to open his gifts right there at the table. He opened the truffles first and told me that he loves chocolate and he would save them to eat on Christmas Day. “I’ll be here alone,” he said, “having a cold sandwich or whatever they send to my room. And now I’ll have chocolates for dessert!” A little piece of my heart broke hearing that. Dominic was alone on Thanksgiving, too, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t spend the holidays with his family. He has a wife and a daughter, and I’m pretty sure that the wife at least lives locally. Dominic has to be in assisted living because he has Parkinson’s Disease and his elderly wife wasn’t able to care for him anymore. Bad enough that they can no longer live together, but to be apart on Christmas? To me, it’s just unthinkable. When he opened the fleece and felt how soft it was, he looked across the table at me with his eyes just shining – deep wells of appreciation and surprised pleasure – and he must have thanked me a dozen times.

As we all got up to leave the table, Dominic told us that he was going back to his room to wrap up in his new warm blanket and watch TV. After wishing the other couple a happy holiday, Mom and I followed him out of the dining room – patiently waiting as he struggled with tremors and made slow progress with his walker. At the door to his room, he turned to wish us a Merry Christmas and to tell me he wished he could reciprocate with a gift. I smiled and told him “Dominic, the best possible reciprocation is to see you smiling and know that my little gifts made you happy. Merry Christmas.”

I still hate to think of the poor gentleman alone on Christmas day, eating a cold lunch in his room in front of the TV. But when I bring Mom back to the community on Thursday, I’ll bring Dominic a plate of leftovers from our Christmas dinner. I think he’ll like that.

And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones,
The old and the young…