The last 12 Christmases I’ve dreaded and sometimes even downright hated the holiday. It was 12 years ago that we found out my mother had cancer. It was a fast and aggressive cancer. We found out on December 9th she had a mass. December 16th I heard from the doctor’s mouth that she had 4 months at best to live. Until that day I’d been in a panicked state of denial. Researching cancer treatments and hospitals I was working tirelessly to put myself into that denial. December 16th, the doctor pushed that denial away and it was never to return.
By Christmas my mother was a shell of herself. She was weak, frail and seemed to have aged LITERALLY overnight…I watched as she disappeared in only a matter of a couple of weeks. By New Year’s eve my mother was in the hospital and was about to have a liter of bloody fluid removed from around her heart. It was to help her breathe and possibly a chance to have chemo and a chance at a few more months. She wanted to go for it. If I’d known that would be the last time I’d hear her or talk to her or with her I wonder if I’d been willing to encourage her to do so.
New Year’s Day 2003 my mother was literally turning blue because she was suffering from lack of oxygen to her brain and was beginning to become delusional. She thought we were trying to kill her and she refused to leave the oxygen mask on. She refused surgery at the first round down to the surgical floor and when my other dad arrived she finally consented but not until he got there. Perhaps she knew somewhere in the animal instinctual place that it would be the last time she ever saw him on this side. I don’t know. The last words my mother spoke to me were, “You’re in on it. You want to kill me too.” Talk about making a girl cry when she remembers those last words. I try not to remember those particular words but the ones that she said like, “No matter what, I’ll always be right there in your heart” as she patted my chest.
After her surgery she was put on a ventilator (her greatest fear) and was never awake again. It was to be a temporary measure while she healed from her surgery. The temporary measure became a month-long measure until we disconnected it and she still continued to fight for 2 more days. She endured 2 rounds of chemo while on the ventilator and many more indignities that I’d hoped she would never have to endure and ultimately it felt like it was all for naught. My mama died on February 2, 2003 with my other dad and me by her side. It was one of the most surreal days of my life.
Christmas was my mom’s holiday. Coming from a home with divorced parents, I grew up dividing my holidays from around the age of 10. My daddy got Thanksgiving and my mama always got Christmas. I know she was perfectly fine with that because she absolutely loved the holiday. She loved the sparkle and lights. She loved all the gaudy decorations and color. It fit because my mama was a poor man’s Dolly Parton! She loved to dress flashy, trashy and everything in between. She was a colorful character and I loved that facet of her.
The following year after my mom died, the Christmas of 2003 was probably the worst one. My son and I both cried as we decorated my parents house for the holidays. We had begun living with my other dad and so we were using everything that was my mom’s to decorate with.
We’d left our home on December 19, 2002 for a weekend stay and it turned into forever. When we left, our home was decorated with Christmas decorations and they stayed up for literally over a year. Our little house became a ghost house with us only going to retrieve personal items as we needed them. I looked at our Christmas tree (yes it was artificial) with contempt every time I walked into the door. It was a wicked reminder of what I’d lost and when. I could never make myself take it down though. It was as if some childish wish was wrapped up in that tree that this whole devastating loss was somehow a really hellish nightmare.
The following year, 2004, we had a Christmas miracle in that it snowed here in South Texas for the first time in a jillion years! It was fun to be outside in the snow even though I’d gotten sick that year and was still in the early stages of making the rounds to specialists all over the lower part of Texas to figure out what was wrong. My son and I took a bunch of pictures and stayed up all night December 24th into the morning of Christmas. We romped around with our dogs and got some really amazing photos. That was the closest I came to being happy on a Christmas for 12 years.
Two more Christmases and my other dad made a decision that was very final and caused much hurt to the entire family. He chose to end his own poor health suffering and took his life 3 days before Christmas. It was already a shitty holiday by then for me…his act sealed poor Christmas’s fate as far as I was concerned. It was a doomed holiday forever. I would go through the motions for my son, but I was pretty much done with it.
A couple more Christmases went by and my son was involved with a girl his senior year who had a child. I felt hope that maybe this would make the holiday a bit brighter if I had a toddler to buy for. While it helped me overcome some of my dread for the month of December, the following year just sealed it again as a sucky time of the year when the same girl began to control more and more of my son’s time and I was basically left alone on Christmas. Thankfully that relationship ended shortly after the holidays the following New Year.
I floated along with the holiday I despised and went through all my motions once more. Then 4 years ago I was suddenly faced with becoming a grandmother for the first time (different girl) and I was hopeful Christmas might be better.
I still found myself not wanting to really be a holiday spirit kind of person and often regarded myself as the Grinch or Scrooge. I hated when I heard Christmas carols in the stores and I refused to even listen to them at home. Because of emotional drama with my son, his son, and the mother of my grandson, it seemed the holidays were still doomed even with a precious grandbaby. After that first rocky Christmas with my grandson the following year I was excited about the holidays only because my son would be graduating from basic training in Ft. Jackson and would be home for Christmas before going off for another 7 months to Oklahoma and AIT.
The following year my son, grandson and now daughter-in-law came down for a wedding and we celebrated Christmas 10 days early. It was okay because I’m learning to share holidays all over again because my son has in-laws now. I still didn’t really care about the holiday at all because it was just a sad reminder of everything I’d lost during the month of December.
Now it is 12 years since my mama got sick and I’ve already written a Christmas letter and mailed it on December 1st to all my NON-Facebook using friends. I have made 3 batches of fudge and several batches of cookies. I first began to do all of this for my son’s benefit because he won’t be here this year because he is deployed in the middle east. When he first left, I thought about how long a year was going to be while he was gone. So much can change in a life in a year. After all, this last year brought my first published book in April and the second one in October. Of course I also thought that naturally I would be even more bitter about Christmas because he was on the other side of the planet while we were left here with a big hole in our lives with him gone.
Of course there was also the fact that my grand-daughter was due to be born in December also. All I could think of was how my son would miss out on it and that this was one more reason to detest the month of December.
So when I found myself happily humming Christmas songs as I began making my first awful batch of fudge and cookies I was a little taken aback. I was trying to be happy about my grand-daughter being born in December but I kept wanting to be sad about it too.
Her first date to be delivered by a c-section was December 22nd. The one day of the entire month I did NOT want her born. It was the same day my other dad completed his life on Earth. It was a horror filled anniversary that I hated with a purple passion for almost 8 years now. When I basically pleaded with my daughter-in-law into getting the doctor to change the date it was changed to the 23rd. I still wasn’t thrilled about it being on that day but I wasn’t the doctor or the pregnant woman. When it was moved to the 19th, I felt a bit better. Perhaps that is what put me into the Christmas mood…perhaps it is the realization that there is about to be another member to my family. I only had one child biologically so our family is not very large…immediate or extended. The thought of having another little person to love fills my heart with joy and the fact that it is finally a little girl after 24 years of nothing but boys, boys and more boys makes it even better. I’m a frilly girl who loves all the frilly little girl things. I’m prissy I suppose if that is how you would describe someone like that. My mama used to dress me in ruffles and lace as a little girl and I suppose it stuck with me.
Yesterday, my daughter-in-law called to tell me that her OB was very ill and in the hospital so she had been transferred as a patient to another OB and that doctor was NOT going to delivery my grand-daughter on the 19th. I was a little disappointed but when I heard the dreaded date that was chosen by the doctor I felt dread immediately! It was once again the 22nd.
My daughter-in-law knew how much I did not want that date and bless her she tried desperately to tell me that since it was that date twice, it was meant to be that my grand-daughter’s birth would make that date a happy one now instead of a sad one. I didn’t want to believe that. I steadfastly, in my denial frame, kept telling her that my new ladybug love would be born earlier and the doctor didn’t know everything. Perhaps that is what will happen and perhaps it won’t. Today I realize that it really doesn’t matter.
In all her young wisdom, perhaps my sweet daughter-in-law is correct. If my long awaited little girl is born on this sad anniversary perhaps her birth will herald in a new meaning to this date. I’m hopeful it is her impending birth that has broken through the icy layer of discord I feel for the entire month of December and has caused me to begin humming Christmas carols and wanting to bake. I also decorated even though I’d said before December that there was no reason since it was just going to be me and my partner in crime home alone for the holidays.
That’s another thing that has me humming I believe. The fact that there is someone around to share my life with at the moment. Someone who is having more fun than me at putting up lights and Christmas wreaths. With that in mind, I’ve stated that next Christmas the entire house will be lit up with lights and decorations and we will pull every single Christmas box out of storage and go through everything to celebrate my son’s first Christmas back and basically my grand-daughter’s first real Christmas since she will be just a couple of days old this year.
Maybe just maybe the curse of Christmas is beginning to lift in my heart. I’m hopeful in a way because I feel bad honestly when I detest the most magical time of the year. Especially when there are kids involved. I’ve wanted to celebrate my mom’s spirit and her love of the holiday but it has been next to impossible to do so. Grief is a horrible and brutal thing. It never completely goes away I’ve learned. It is around forever when you lose someone who was extremely important to who you are as a person as well as being a loved one.
As I look forward to the birth of my grand-daughter I’m working very hard to push away my cloud of denial and find my acceptance that her birth may happen on a bad memory day. At the same time, I’m hoping that my dear daughter-in-law is correct in the fact that if it is indeed the day my grand-daughter is born then it will usher in a new era for me on the Christmas front. No longer will the holiday be marred with the sad memories of the losses this time of year has normally brought to me. Perhaps this is God’s way of showing me that losses may happen but there is always hope of a brighter tomorrow in the same place that loss has occurred. Let December 22nd become a day of hope and promise now…and let’s celebrate a little girl who will thaw out this icy heart of this Nonna….bring on Christmas.