As I got out the Christmas decorations this year, I thought about years past when I did the same thing and I thought about when my dad was sick. The hustle and bustle was still present that year - it was just focused on a different set of priorities. My kids did most of the decorating at my house that year; I was out of town helping to care for my dad a good bit during that the time. I did 100% of my Christmas shopping online, much of it late at night in between conversations with Dad. Some of the gifts did not get wrapped, and a few even got left behind in the transport between my house and my parents’ house, where my extended family gathered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, taking shifts being with Dad who was in the hospital in the ICU at that point.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Life, for the most part, is full of the mundane, the predictable, the obvious, the day-in/day-out routine. We get up each morning, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work or school, run errands, take care of the kids, make dinner, clean up, and go to bed. Repeat. It is easy to become complacent, to take it for granted, and even to sometimes complain about the little things without realizing what a blessing things around us really are.
And then, in the blink of an eye, everything changes. We are jolted out of our reverie, forced to refocus and to reevaluate pretty much everything. And even as much as we might wish that things would go back to the way they were, things are changed. We are changed. And, for better or for worse, so is our perspective.
In a way, the holiday season was part of the repeating loop for me over the years. Certainly the joy and the excitement were there, especially seeing the wonder and the happiness in the faces of the children in the family. Looking back from this vantage point, though, I can see that I spent too much time worrying leading up to and during the holiday season each year. I worried about when and how the Christmas decorations got put up, I worried about having the “perfect” gift for everyone on my list, I worried about what I would prepare for holiday get-togethers, I worried about getting a photo for the annual Christmas card and getting the cards addressed and mailed out in a timely manner, and I worried about making sure that my kids had an action-packed, memorable (at least what I thought was memorable at the time) holiday season. A lot of the stress I felt during the season was admittedly self-inflicted. And, as I see it now, a lot of it was unnecessary and unproductive.
I will never forget how awful it was being in the hospital that Christmas. The hospital cafeteria closed after lunch on Christmas Eve, and families of patients in the hospital had to fend for themselves for food for the next day and a half after that. The roads were icy and travel was precarious, and everyone in my family was so, so sleep deprived and concerned about Dad and about each other. None of us cared about opening gifts or celebrating; the only thing we really wanted to do was to spend time together and to do whatever we could to try to help Dad.
I thought about that a lot as I lifted each string of lights and each ornament out of the boxes again this year, and here’s what I realized: As tough as things were that Christmas, not for one second did any of us lose sight of the value of being there together. No one in the family ever said anything like this isn't fair or I'd rather be somewhere else or doing something else. Together we struggled through my dad’s illness and death and together we have struggled through the grief since then, the day-to-day routines as well as the holidays that have come since then now colored in a very different way. The lessons I learned from all that we went through that holiday season are things that I am certain will never leave me – things like how it’s more important to focus on the joy and togetherness of today than to worry about the details of tomorrow, especially when much of tomorrow is out of our control. Like how it’s important to ask for help when help is needed and how stuff is just stuff. Like how when one of us is sad or exhausted or discouraged or sick or hurt, we are strong as a whole. And like how, even in the midst of the everyday, it's possible for perspective to reflect the riches that we are fortunate enough to hold in the moment.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
As far back as I can remember when I was a child, my dad made a point to remind my sisters and me every year on Christmas Eve that Santa liked to have beer left out for him at some houses instead of milk. I remember asking Dad if Santa would mind if the beer was hot by the time he got to our house and Dad said, no, any beer is good beer, even a hot one.
Fast-forward a couple of decades later when I told my own children that Santa liked beer instead of milk. Things went according to my plan until my older daughter was asked to write a letter to Santa as an assignment in her first grade class. The letter started out like most of them do: "Dear Santa, Hi! How are you?" It was written in very neat handwriting with good spacing and sizing of the letters, and I’m sure the teacher was very impressed, until she got to the more unique part where my daughter wrote, “My mom says you like behr more than milk do you? Even hot?”
My daughter finished the letter with her list of a few things she wanted Santa to bring her that year and a “Thank you!” and then signed her name at the bottom of the page. She added a couple of little drawings out to the side which she often did in those days; I doubt that distracted the teacher from the Mom ♥ Beer message in the body of the letter though. The letter was mounted on a piece of construction paper and taped to the classroom wall for all to see at the PTA Open House that week. I remember telling my dad about it on the phone the next day and hearing him laugh through the phone as if it were the world’s funniest joke. “It’s like a treat you gave to yourself years later,” I told him, to which he laughed even harder.