My Christmas Story
I am a closet ‘I wish it was over’ Christmas person. As I was driving to the rehabilitation center yesterday, I longed for the radio stations to play normal music. I was waiting for the constant reminders of Christmas closeness I did not have – waiting for them to fade away into the new year.
Our family history of Christmas is difficult, and tense, full of stress from childhood through my own divorce, leading to more stress around the holidays and a fractured family structure. There is huge tension around our big family gatherings among my siblings. My brother and his wife go on an annual trip to an island, any island, to get away from Christmas. I secretly wish that they would take me with them every year.
Our mother, our anchor, is still here, and for that reason I have decorated, wrapped, cooked and danced my way through Christmas for many years. My sons have lives of their own and come and go. For our mother, however, it is a very important and traditional event.
So yesterday, one of my 5 siblings and I agreed to take a mid afternoon lunch to our mother in her room at a rehabilitation facility. She knows her house is decorated and waiting for her, and a party will welcome her home in about a week.
But it was still Christmas day.
As I parked and walked in the facility, the sun was streaming through the front doors. The halls were buzzing with families and gift bags and grandchildren spilling out of rooms. There were hospital beds, and oxygen and medical carts and nurses in the hallways, yes. But I could also see family gatherings full of Christmas colors, I could hear music, I could see people sitting on beds and in sunny windowsills.
As I approached our mother’s room, I paused and thanked her nurse for being there on Christmas day. She smiled and said, ‘this is my family here, my co-workers, my patients. There is no where else I’d rather be today.’
I opened the door quietly, and my mother was sound asleep, the sun streaming through the windows onto her bed. Another sister had been there that morning, our mother had on a beautiful red sweater, there were new books scattered around her.
I put my bags on the floor and settled quietly into a chair next to the bed, looking around the room. I saw that the paperwhites on the windowsill had burst into bloom this morning. I noticed that the flowers and Christmas arrangements and cards were suddenly overtaking every available surface. I heard the faint buzz of activity in the hallway.
And so our Christmas unfolded. My sister arrived, our mother was helped up and into a wheelchair, we cleared the magazines from her tray table and put a freshly ironed large linen napkin on it as a tablecloth. We had bright yellow lemon dinner napkins, white chicken chili in paper bowls, my sister’s famous hominy and fresh soft bib lettuce salad. We made toasts with chilled sparkling cider in paper cups and she opened a few presents - the perfect pair of low winter fur topped boots for the snow that is sure to come, a gift bag from a Georgetown friend with ‘the most beautiful’ chocolate covered cherries, and cat socks. She showed us a catalogue of horse paintings she had been given, she asked about the annual Christmas Eve party she had been unable to attend the night before, and we told her all about it and showed her pictures. Another sister called and they talked about the music the night before at her Christmas Eve service in New York, about the luncheon guests they had invited, about the menu, about her dogs.
We sat, relaxed and laughing and telling stories around her tray table in her rehab room and I thought that maybe this was what the closeness was, that feeling that was so elusive. It was, I thought, the perfect Christmas.
We packed up and as we were leaving my brother and his wife breezed in from the airport, full of sun and the healthy disheveled glow of a week at an island, bearing rum cake and coconut candy and pictures of the sea and beautiful views. They brought a beautiful pink conch shell they had found, and we all took turns holding the shell up to our ears to hear the sea; you could almost taste the salt in the air and feel the sea breeze. As I left, they were tucked in telling stories and talking about horses and the upcoming foaling season and the farm, eating coconut candy and laughing.
This was the moment that you grab and take with you. Not the storybook Christmas that I was always looking for, but one – this one - of sharing and closeness and hope, whatever shape it takes, wherever you might be.