Christmas

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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.

Fiesty & Girl in the snow of Christmas 2004

Fiesty & Girl in the snow of Christmas 2004

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Christmas 2012 in Davis, OK with my daddy & mama Nik! Before going to AIT at Ft Sill, we stopped for some cheer at my daddy's home in Davis.  This is a photo of 3 generations of Rogers men. My daddy, Roy, my son, Steven & my grandson, Ryan

Christmas 2012 with my daddy & mama Nik!
Before going to AIT at Ft Sill, we stopped for some cheer at my daddy’s home in Oklahoma. This is a photo of 3 generations of Rogers men.
My daddy, Roy, my son, Steven & my grandson, Ryan

My son and his family Christmas morning 2012!

My son and his family Christmas morning 2012!

Stockings hung in our family room (no fireplace in there) Representing the 'kids' in our family...my daughter-in-law, my grandson, my new grand-daughter and my son!  There once was only one stocking to hang for my child and now I'm blessed with 4!!!  Perhaps this is the Christmas where the spirit and love of the season take me back over....

Stockings hung in our family room (no fireplace in there)Representing the ‘kids’ in our family…my daughter-in-law, my grandson, my new grand-daughter and my son! There once was only one stocking to hang for my child and now I’m blessed with 4!!! Perhaps this is the Christmas where the spirit and love of the season take me back over..

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Life is fragile

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Last night, I got a private message on my Facebook page to call a friend of mine that I have not talked with in almost a year.  I haven’t seen her in about 3 now.  This woman was once a part of my every day life about 22 years ago.  She was the woman who I trusted with my greatest treasure here on Earth…my heart & soul…my son.

I found this lady after traditional daycare and then a ‘babysitting’ situation did not work out.  My son was about 18 months old and my entire reason for existing at that time.  I had narrowed my search down between this woman and another but my gut instinct was to go with the lady I went with.  I have veered off from my gut instincts before but I didn’t want to make a mistake with the life of the only biological child I would ever have.  He was the miracle baby that I didn’t think I’d ever have.

The week he began going to his new home daycare, I was scheduled to have a hysterectomy at the age of 25.  I was filled with a lot of trepidation because this was a very big and scary surgery to have so young and most doctors don’t even want to discuss it with someone my age who only has one child.  I’d been plagued with issues since I’d been a teenager though so I always thought the doctor thought it was obviously in my best interest even so young.

I was a young, single mom and had been on my own with my son since he was 4 months old.  He was my entire world.  I only worked in order to provide for us.  I cared about being a good employee and was always terrified of losing my job because I had no savings or education besides my high school diploma.  So, my ‘career’ as such was not working at a trucking company as the district secretary but my career was about being the best mom I could be.

At that time, my mom and (step)dad still lived in the suburb of Corpus Christi where I’d gone to high school and once again lived with my toddler.  I was supposed to go stay with them during my recuperation period after my surgery so my mom could help me with my son.  She was the only other person I truly felt okay leaving my son with for a long period of time.  She treated him just as I did (okay…she was a grandma…she probably let him eat cookies and cake for breakfast…for sure Hershey’s Kisses…but for the most part she did everything the same).

The fact that I was going to trust a relative stranger with my child for the first time during a week that I was probably at my most vulnerable seems a bit insane I’m sure, but it is how the Gods saw fit for life to be rolling out for me at the time.

The lady who I finally chose, let’s call her Belinda, had 3 kids of her own.  She had a preteen daughter, a son who was probably around 8 and then she had a 2 year old little girl too.  She had gotten certified as a home daycare and her house was so clean you could eat off of her floors.  My floors not so much, but I digress…

My mom lived one street over from Belinda and that was another reason I felt a little better knowing that she was only a phone call away.  This was way before cell phones were the norm.  If you worked for an oil company you probably had a mobile phone INSTALLED inside your vehicle, but just to have an arbitrary phone that wasn’t connected to a house wasn’t normal.

The day I was to go preregister at the hospital came and like any other day, I took my son to his new daycare and I went to work.  I went to lunch with my boss and then, having taken the afternoon off, I drove to the hospital downtown to get paperwork taken care of for my surgery.

Anyone who has ever done this knows what a mind numbing experience this is…especially when they make you walk all over hell’s half-acre to do a jillion different things…blood-work, paperwork, x-rays, paperwork, more blood-work, paperwork, pee in a cup, paperwork.

As I was walking through the hallway I heard my name paged over the intercom of the hospital.  I was surprised to hear my name because as you can tell it isn’t an everyday sounding name.  When I found the courtesy phone in the hallway I was walking in I found my boss’s voice on the other end.  He asked if I’d talked to my mom yet.  I immediately felt my heart go up into my chest.  He told me that my son, my miracle baby, the whole reason for me to draw air every single day had been rushed to a small hospital on the opposite side of town.  When he told me that my child had a seizure I just knew he was dead.  I’m not even sure I hung up the phone as I ran out of the hospital.  I jumped into my 1985 Ford Crown Victoria and sped along the highway at 90 mph.  LITERALLY … I was terrified to drive any faster.  The speed limit was only 55 back then.  I’d already decided the cops would have to chase me and I’d get out kicking and biting if they got in my way.

As I screeched into the back parking lot of the tiny hospital where my child had been taken I saw my (step)dad rushing in.  He’d come from downtown too and was in a white dress shirt as he worked in an office building for a large oil company.  As soon as I saw him I almost passed out.  If he was there it could only mean that my child was indeed dead, I surmised.  I was bawling as I pulled into a parking slot and found myself running in my skirt and dress shoes.

I ran inside and saw my parents beyond the double doors to the back of the ER.  I was looking around like a wild woman to see if I could find the babysitter.  What had this woman done?  The nurse working the desk knew immediately who I must be because she didn’t even ask who I was there for or what I needed.  She mercifully led me to the back.  I came around the white curtains to see my 18 month old son lying on a huge gurney, pale, but alive.  I rushed up to him and he began to cry and reach towards me.  Unceremoniously I brushed past my mom and gathered him up into my arms.

The doctor came up just at that moment to announce that my son had what was called a febrile seizure.  I’d never heard of that in my entire life but I was to learn that these fever induced seizures were the leading cause of fevers in babies and toddlers.  It was probably an anomaly (it wasn’t) that would never happen again (it did).  The babysitter had rushed him here with another toddler and a baby in tow.  She’d called my mom who rushed up there and she had already left to take care of her other small charges.

My son would most likely be okay and as any parent of a toddler can attest, illness is hardly ever gradual.  It instead comes over this little person, who means more than air itself to you, like a sledgehammer falling off a roof…hard and fast.  He was given some Ibuprofen in prescription form (yes, it only came in prescription back then).  The doctor felt like this would not repeat itself and he would be okay.  He even said if daycare didn’t have any reservations, he could go back the next day.  I didn’t know what to think.

The next day was my surgery.  How could I in good conscious go through with this surgery after this happened, I asked myself.  I went to my parents home but only after I drove by the babysitter’s house.  She was still brought to tears when she saw my son.  She recounted everything and how terrified she’d been.  She thought he was dying.  I could only recount how terrified I’d been not having any clue what had happened.  She agreed to watch him the next day while I was in surgery as long as he promised not to scare her like that again.  She laughed but I still think she was half serious when she told my toddler-speaking child in grown-up English he was grounded if he ever scared her like that again.

When I got to my parents they both insisted I go ahead with the surgery.  Only my mom would go to the hospital so my (step)dad was available for Steven.  I went only grudgingly.  I was already terrified, but now knowing that my child was sick made it even harder.  Of course, I needn’t have worried.  Belinda was the greatest baby-sitter I could have ever asked for to care for my child.

My son never had another seizure when he was with her, although he had more over the years…but she as well as her family became a part of our family.  When I chose to move away a couple of years later, it was Belinda and her family I missed more than anyone else.

He had another really great babysitter after her, but it took a lot of time, trial and error and some downright bad care before we got another decent person to care for him.  I eventually had a job that was flexible enough to allow me to take him to school and to pick him up.  He sometimes even came to work with me until I got off.

Last night, I was reminded how extremely fragile this thing called life is once again.  Just like the day Belinda rushed him to the hospital, I felt the fragility of life for perhaps the first time then, I was reminded when I received a call from the heroine herself.  She called to tell me that she has terminal cancer.  She is only 53 years old.

Belinda has cared for kids her entire life since her daughter was born in 1980.  She finally got to the point where she didn’t have to run her daycare any longer, but it only happened after she found out she had fibromyalgia (as I do too).  We have commiserated over the years about the unfairness of how much fibromyalgia sucks, especially now that our kids are almost grown (and now actually are) when we should be able to relax and enjoy life instead of feeling like crap all the time.

Now when she and her husband should be able to sit back and maybe take a trip or two and drink beers on their patio after cutting grass on a warm summer evening, she is facing leaving her children and never holding grandchildren in her arms as I’ve been blessed to do.  How do I reconcile that this sweet-hearted woman who barely said sh*t would now be faced with losing everything dear….and even more importantly everyone she holds dear is faced with losing her.

Where is the justice I wonder sometimes.  There are murderers, rapists, and generally awful people who are permitted to live LOOONGGGG lives and then there are people like Belinda and even my own mama who died at 56 who are taken much too young.  My mama touched so many lives with her journey through sobriety the last 16 1/2 years of her life, and I sometimes wonder how many other lives she could have touched eventually.  Now here is Belinda who has cared for everyone…  She should be reaping her just rewards for being a good woman.  She’s been a good mama to not just her kids, but to other people’s kids too.  She has loved her husband through thick and thin and she still has 87 year-old parents who rely on her.

She made a statement about the fact she was at MD Anderson in Houston for 7 weeks and does not remember anything from those 7 weeks.  She said it seemed so weird to her to have that much time from her life be simply gone.  She said it was hard to believe that only 7 weeks ago she was dealing with chemo, thinking she still had plenty of time and then poof!  Life as she always knew it was no more.  Now she has lesions on her brain….what does that mean I wonder?

In my heart of hearts I know what that means.  In my heart of hearts I know it means I will grieve my friend.  I know that it means my son will be in Kuwait most likely when I do.  It means that I’m faced once again with my own mortality.  It means that I’m once again angry that someone I love is going to die because of cancer.

I’ve lost loved ones to cancer, suicide and car wrecks.  I went to school with people who have died in car wrecks, heart attacks, drug overdoses, and cancer.  It seems my loved ones though die from cancer.  The majority have at least…

I can’t make sense of this disease.  It is insidious, cruel and not discriminatory in the least.  It kills old and young alike.  It sucks out everything you have inside of you and still leaves loved ones asking why.  It has no rhyme or reason.  Why does a woman who has awesome genetics who should live to be 95 years old end up being the youngest in her family to die.  Why does it take doctors over a year to find?  Why?  Why?  Why?????

I’ve often said it before and I’m going to have to remind myself of this….why is not for me to ask.  Why is not for me to know.  All I have to know is that I love this person.  As long as I live, I’ll carry a piece of this woman in my heart.

I know she will be in good company when she leaves this world and moves to the next.  My son and I weren’t the only ones who accepted her into our hearts as family…my mama did too….even when Belinda called her Nana Banana with the other toddlers!  I know Mama will be there to welcome her to the other side.  They’ll most likely go drink some coffee and smoke and joke while they wait on the rest of us to catch up.

In the words of Randy Travis, “It’s not what you take but what you leave behind you when you go.” (Three Wooden Crosses)~