Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Heartfelt Tribute

Like other families, my family has some quirky holiday traditions.  Some of them are from Christmases past, things I remember doing as a child growing up in my parents’ house, like letting our dogs, who lived outside, come into the den so they could be in the Christmas morning pictures with us, and like getting goodies in one leg of a pair of panty-hose instead of in our handmade stockings that hung over the fireplace.

In fact, one of the most vivid Christmas memories from my childhood was a tradition repeated year after year and was something that annoyed my dad greatly:  my sisters and I always had a “sister sleepover” in one of our bedrooms on Christmas Eve, and every year we found a way to get up after our parents had gone to sleep so that we could check out what Santa had left for us downstairs.  Every year, after our parents told us to go to sleep, we either stayed awake (feigning sleep when they checked on us before they went to bed) or we set an alarm so that after we went to sleep we could get up in the middle of the night.  One year, we woke up in the wee hours and went to check out what Santa had left for us, and I discovered that I had gotten a new bicycle!  Despite the freezing cold temperatures outside and the snow on the ground, I went out in my pajamas and without shoes (the pajamas were the kind with built-in feet, so I figured that was good enough!) and rode my new bike up and down the street until Dad caught me a little while later.  Another year on Christmas Eve, Dad told us that if we set an alarm before we went to sleep, he would just turn it off so that we wouldn’t get up.  Hmmm.  We retaliated by setting TWO alarms, one on the bedside table (which he later turned off) and a second one hidden under a bed.  Mission accomplished; sorry, Dad, but we were EXCITED!

Some of the holiday traditions from my childhood are continued in my family today; for example, after each present is unwrapped on Christmas morning, the wrapping paper is wadded up and thrown on the floor so that by the time all of the gifts have been unwrapped there is a mountain of paper in the room in which the kids are able to completely hide, which they do until someone counts, “1, 2, 3” and then a photo is taken as they jump up out of the pile of gift wrap.   We also always give our pets Christmas presents, and we always open gifts one at a time.  

A few of the things we usually do may not happen this year; we may take some time off and resume these things later, or we may just let them go.  One of the things I am mostly avoiding this year is listening to Christmas music; every song reminds me of my dad and fills me with such sadness that he is not able to be here with the rest of us.  Maybe next year those songs will be happy reminders for me of his beautiful singing voice and how he loved to listen to Christmas songs and hymns; we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Thirteen years ago, my sister J had her first child, a daughter who was born too early and subsequently had to stay in the hospital in the Neonatal ICU for several weeks.  During her hospital stay in a city over 100 miles from where my sister and her husband lived, my family took turns visiting, and we stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital.  

Though the days while my niece was in the NICU were terrifying and exhausting, there was a happy ending: my sister got to bring her beautiful, healthy daughter home, a child who tomorrow becomes a teenager!  The story actually repeated just over a year later when my sister’s second child, another daughter, was also born early, this time for different reasons than the first time.  Another long hospitalization, another roller coaster ride, another extended stay at Ronald McDonald House, and – thankfully  – another recovery and another beautiful, healthy baby who is growing up just fine. 

Since that time, my family has been committed to supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities and its efforts to help critically ill children and their families.   When my dad went on ahead and people asked us to which charity we would like donations to be sent, we knew right away what Dad wanted us to say:  Ronald McDonald House Charities, an organization with a special place in all of our hearts and something that we associate with healing, good news, and new beginnings.

In thinking about the changes for my family this holiday season, we decided that we want to do something positive, something helpful and hopeful, and something to honor Dad, and so we signed up to cook and to serve Dad’s favorite meal – spaghetti, salad, and apple pie – to the children and their families at our local Ronald McDonald House on Christmas night this year.  We are all looking forward to this tribute; it’s a perfect example of the way that making an effort to be helpful is often at least as helpful to oneself as it potentially is to the recipients of that effort.

                                Happy holidays!

To Dad, whom I know will be there in our hearts as we take part in our Christmas tribute at RMH.

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