23 December 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

A day off work. I was up at 7, brewing coffee and reloading the dishwasher. I don't want to waste any of my time off lying in the bed. It has become so precious.

I was thinking recently about Christmases of recent past. Last Christmas, I had to work 7-3 at the assisted living facility. I worked every single day then. 6am on a Saturday morning would roll around and I'd feel so depressed about getting up. I still feel that way sometimes, but I am in a much better place now- I mean, I just qualified for my free life insurance!- and I am so grateful.

I am also able to understand the simple peace of having my whole family together for the holiday. I know someone whose son was just murdered. Another whose husband hung himself out in his shed a few weeks ago. People are hurting, and in years past, it was our family who was hurting. The first Christmas after Joe's brother died, his absence filled the air as much as we tried to turn from it.

I recall one Thanksgiving distinctly when I had to go visit my daughter in juvenile detention for the holiday. As I was escorted through the double locked doors, the smell of a holiday meal brushed my face. They were making a special meal for these kids in their navy jumpsuits. I had about an hour with my daughter that day, sitting across from her at a long row of plastic tables. I wasn't allowed to hold her hand. I went back out to my car and cried. There was another holiday, maybe the same year but maybe another- when we went up to Maryland for Christmas and left her behind in her cell at home. I wish now that I had kept better notes from that time- but pushing it all as far away from my heart as possible is how I survived it. We got a 5 minute phone call.

Those were sad years. And right now, people everywhere are going through it. I am choosing to feel thankful that my children are safe and well, they are home, and they are free. The daughter that gave me so much heartache has now given me a grandson. An amazing gift- one I did not want to receive. One I did not realize could fill my heart with so much love, enough to erase all the pain of the past. Enough to take my breath away.

Other Christmases of the past: People leaving bags of groceries on our porch because we were so broke. Joe having to deliver newspapers every Christmas for 10 years. Driving up to Maryland after the newspapers were done, getting there late and having a twinkling tree greeting us in the dark. The magic of little ones waking to American Girl dolls having tea under the tree, back when the gifts could come from Goodwill and no one knew or cared.

I hear people talking a lot about gifts at Christmas, and I was realizing that Joe and I rarely exchange gifts. We just don't. Back in the lean years, I spent what I had on the children. Maybe that just became habit. This year, we are giving each other a huge gift: a house. We close in a week. We'll need a new hot water heater and washer and dryer set. And it's going to be a chaotic New year's weekend for us.

But when you have one of those years where things are good, where you get to be the lucky ones for awhile, you learn to just soak it in. And when you've known those darker roads, it just makes you appreciate it all the more.

06 December 2011


Something made me think of the memory care center today, where I spent a year of weekends. I wondered if things were moving along exactly the same there after six months' absence. I thought: yes, definitely. Things don't change there. Lois is still sitting in the recliner by her bed. Helen is playing another round of solitaire with her faded red cards.

How I was going to write about it. I have begun to, but I never finished. I want to finish. Even when I think of those like Hendrix and Connie, who could write a hundred times more than I could about it. About what it's like to love them.