‘Tis the season… THE season of: cheer, chaos, frenzy, delight, amusement, let-downs, build-ups, joy, remembrances, longing, friends, family, lines and Chinese zaniness. Ok, perhaps not everyone has the last one, but it’s likely you’ve each experienced most of the others this Season. It’s not the winter season I refer to, of course, but “The Holiday Season.” In our house, that means Hanukkah (which started last Tuesday) and Christmas, which is still in progress. Call it Chrismukkah, call us double dippers, but however you slice it, it’s double all of the above in our house. Preparing for two big holidays, cooking for two big holidays, decorating for and buying presents for two big holidays, every year it has been one long reign of insanity. Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, comes at a different time each year, as the Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar. It can come as early as late November and start as late as it did this year: December 20th. I’ve got to give Christmas a bonus point for at least falling on the exact same day each year. There are no surprises there; I know when the storm will hit. However, each year I have to remind myself to check on Hanukkah… see when it will spring on me. This year Christmas fell smack in the middle of Hanukkah, and that folks has been quite a wild ride.
A very full two days, of a very long eight days is finally at a close and Christmas is coming to an end this year. The house is quiet and here I sit in that annual stupor that falls on me when all the weeks of preparation and thought are at an end, (or in this case the final last two days) and I feel like I’ve just been through a tornado. A crazy happy tornado, but a spin none the less. We have all opened our Christmas presents, as we ate our annual almond torte for Christmas breakfast (prepared each year by dear friends and always highly anticipated). I have seen which of the gifts (that I agonized over) were a hit and which were “I can’t believe you thought I would like this” gifts. The honey ham dinner has been served; and we’ve visited Mom. The guests are gone, and the house is quiet. Luckily for me, there is a
melt down respite stage in all these festivities when I can slip off to this quiet corner and type my thoughts. Writing it down, putting it out in this blog, clears my head. Ahhh, sweet relief; yet such a dilemma: I’m exhausted; go to bed, or write? Writing wins out again.
Christmas Eve day I spent a few hours with my Mom. Tough. That was just plain old tough. She is very frail now, fed up with it all, refusing meds, sad and angry all at once. It’s hard to sit with her now. The Hospice nurses are so wonderful and the place so peaceful, but it is getting harder and harder to go each day. Mom now drifts in and out: she’s impossible to understand sometimes as she tries to tell us what she needs, and crystal clear and bitterly harsh when she scolds: “Oh D, just stop it!” I was telling her about who had called to send her their best wishes and the few who had sent her cards for Christmas, and she suddenly said it: “Oh D, just stop it!” It stopped me cold, chilled me through. She said it so totally clearly, and so bitterly. “What? Stop what Mom?” I asked… like a fourteen year old who had just been caught doing something. I was right back there, in trouble with my Mom and already trying to figure out how to get out of it. “Stop telling me who cares about me. I haven’t heard from any of them in years. I’ve been sick for so long and haven’t heard a word, or gotten a card in all that time. I don’t want to hear it now. Where were they when I was… alive?” Ouch, but real. Bitter and real. It stung; it hurt to hear; I felt defensive; but I knew it was true.
I pass on others’ well wishes and I too feel torn at times. Why now? Why not the wishes when she could appreciate them and was feeling so alone all the time? Yet, how do I turn them away? Do I edit them or leave them out all together? Yesterday she finally told me: enough. For weeks I have sat in that room with her and she has come in and out of phases of accepting this final stage of her life. It has been days of warm memories, lucid moments as well as days when nothing she says makes sense… to me. It does to her and the older memories are so clear and real that she will speak in child’s voice and tell me about the time she and a friend found money on the sidewalk and hid it in Hartford, CT. Where Mom? Where is that money! (I have to laugh, I have to joke… or I’d cry). Then she told me about missing my father, something I have not heard her mention in thirty+ years. Now, she seems bitter and frustrated, with it all. She wants me there; she wants to be left alone. She is sick of the pills: pills for pain, pills for infection, pills to go to the bathroom, more pills for pain, pills for depression (hmm, guess it’s depressing to die of a terrible disease and they figure a pill can help with that?), pills for anxiety (insert anxiety in the previous observation), pills, pills, pills… ground in apple sauce (a teaspoon, because she doesn’t want food) or served with her Coke. Bitter pills to swallow.
This final stage is the hardest for
me her. She resents any of us telling her that it’s ok to let go and leave us, but she equally resents that she’s still here. She is so small now and frail, yet when she said “Oh D, just stop it!” she was my mother again, telling me to knock it off. She was life size and alive. Two weeks ago, she told me she regretted that she’d miss Christmas with us and couldn’t buy gifts. So, I brought in catalogues and she hand-picked a gift for several people she loves. She made me promise to pay with her money, so they would really be from her. Then, she asked me to go buy Christmas cards for her: “Not the ones you would pick out, but the ones I would.” Pure Mom. She knows I hate picking out cards, but she always loved it.
She had her own justifications for what she wanted for each person and didn’t want my advice. When you are lying in a bed dying and others do everything for you, this was something she could and wanted to do all on her own. So I ordered the gifts and I bought the cards. She was able to sign two, and a birthday card for my brother (Dec.27th). Her writing is frail and thin, but it’s on those pages, the last words she will likely ever write: “your grammy,” “your mom.” I wrapped and handed out her gifts this morning, explaining to everyone all just how this had happened: that their grandmother and mother had done this herself. Opening her gifts, watching each person’s faces as they saw her final message, her final gift to them: That was Christmas, right there. The real thing Charlie brown! Beautiful, meaningful, tender and lovely.
There were also very funny moments Christmas Eve and Christmas day as we all shared our memories and Denmark and China shared their own missing traditions. China does not celebrate Christmas, so this was his first and a first Hanukkah for both of them. China likes Christmas. He likes Hanukkah. Clearly, he likes presents! His parents sent Hubby and I red, silky jackets… but Chinese women are much smaller than me and this jacket will be worn open, because those buttons are never going to meet. China gave Little Man/US a really cool scarf from China and this wild (and there is no real word that describes this) hat… We all informed Little Man that it may not be the right thing to wear to his high school. In fact, maybe you can only wear this hat in China! China exclaimed to us: “My gifts to you are all made in China.” We all looked at each other, laughed and I answered: “Most of the gifts under this tree were made in China!”
The other hilarious moment came when my sister presented me with her gift. Let’s just say that she’s been known to give me some “different” gifts. So, when I opened this box… well, I really didn’t know what to say. I tried for all the
fake genuine faces I could manage, but there was just no getting around it: I was stunned. Then, I realized that she was giggling. Giggling at me, not with me. That’s when I realized that the box was a ruse… a sweater was inside. The sweater is beautiful, but this box is a keeper! —->
Christmas Eve, Principessa planned an amazing gift for me with her BFF and my other daughter… we’ll call her Gorgeous Scandinavian Girl (GSG) here, because she is. She and Principessa have been soul mates for years, and in the summer or when they were in high school, GSG is here all the time. She arrived promptly at 8:30 with her guitar. We had two other families here eating a huge prime rib dinner and we all went to the living room, where my daughter sang me THE most beautiful, stirring, meaningful song, as a room full of 17 people watched me tear up and weep. In my defense, two of the men in the room got teary as well. It was exquisite! The song, Oh My Mama, is so meaningful and GSG played perfect guitar, and sang back ground. Principessa then sang the 23rd Psalm, in Hebrew, as we all sat around in awe. It was amazing. My girl can sing.
We were blessed this year, for the first time in (too) many years, with a little one. A gorgeous little girl who still believes in Santa and made us all laugh and smile all night long. I featured her in my post about the Farmer’s Market (A Fresh, Fresh Glow), because this lovely little girl is just a bolt of yummy sweetness in my life. Any time she is in the room, I can’t help but smile. Christmas Eve, she followed me around all night, helping me; making me smile; examining all the ornaments on my tree and sticking beside her best buddy Luke… who patiently wore the reindeer antlers that I gave her as a gift. He reminded us of the faithful dog Max in The Grinch, sitting beside his own Cindy Lou Who. Way too cute.
So now we have two more nights of Hanukkah, including our annual Hanukkah party. I will cook huge numbers of latkes, and we will sing our last night of prayers as we light our menorah. We’ll exchange our final gifts and do one more huge batch of dishes. New Year’s Eve will be extra meaningful this year as we attend a much loved friend’s Bat Mitzvah and then figure out how to celebrate quietly this year. I’m ready for some quiet. Then, The Holiday Season will come to a close for me. The boy scouts will come collect our beautiful tree, as they do each year just after New Years. The decorations will be put away until next year. The gifts that weren’t a hit will be returned and the others put away. Three of the five kids at home right now will return to school and I will get some of my solitude back. It’s not that I’m counting down and wanting it all to end… but it’s not exactly like I’m not either. (Our electric menorah… blazing all night–>)
Balancing it all this year, against the backdrop of losing my mother… Slowly, unbearably slowly, has been so much harder than I could have anticipated. None of this, frankly has been what I anticipated and as I count down the days, waiting and guessing, trying to keep our lives going on as normally as possible, I know that the shoe will fall and she will be gone. Then, there will be a huge vacuum where all of this anticipation and energy has gone, for months now. This year, knowing that, I was that much more grateful for the funny moments, the sweet moments, the ones with meaning, but right now, I will be grateful for some very quiet moments to really take it all in and then… let it go.
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