I love Christmas. I love decorating our tree, getting out all the decorations I’ve collected and been given over the years. So many bring back a waive of memories – the Hummel nativity set that Mom brought back from a cruise, a large pine cone wreath that she made for a certain location over a fireplace during my self-described “rich days,” ornaments that my daughter fashioned in daycare or kindergarten 25-30 years ago, ornaments that I’ve purchased to commemorate events, from a honeymoon in San Francisco (a cable car), to a dog that I thought looked like one of our long-gone pets, Sunshine.
Our house lends itself to Christmas decoration. It’s a log home, with a large great room, complete with a huge stone fireplace and a rough-hewn mantel. The height of the ceiling permits us to choose an 18-20 foot tree – one that we cut down from our property. (We have too many trees, and many are crowding out their neighbours.) The tree is never perfect, and this year’s model is no exception. From the front, it looks pretty straight – but go to the side, and it’s quite crooked, after you look up a foot or two from the base. But it’s lovely, without question, heavy with white lights and a panoply of ornaments.
Last year, on the Thursday before Christmas, I drove to Buffalo to pick up Mom from the airport. It was her 3rd Christmas here in the 4 Christmases we’d been at our home (the 4th I was with her in Virginia). She loved it. She was like a child when she walked in, eyes wide in wonder. On the Friday before Christmas, I took her into my office – she’d not met any of my workmates, as I’d been there only a bit over a year. She was astounded by the youth of the place; conversely, my workmates were astounded by the vim and life of this attractive, petite 89-year-old woman in a bright red microfibre running suit and white sneakers. What made the day truly peculiar was the fact that I had an awful cold, and (I believe for the first time in my life) lost my voice. I could not talk above a whisper, and my mother had a significant hearing loss, and was unable to hear me, even with her hearing aids that she always wore. So I’d have to whisper to a co-worker to introduce him/herself to my mother, and instruct them to speak loudly and clearly because of Mom’s hearing loss. All took it with great amusement (especially the fact that I had no voice).
That was the last healthy day Mom had over Christmas. On Saturday, she fell ill with her own cold, and by the following Wednesday I took her to the emergency room fearing pneumonia. Before taking her, though, I called her doctor in Virginia to see if there was anything special I should know (the call made over Mom’s objections, but ultimately with her permission). It was that Wednesday morning that the doctor’s office informed me that Mom had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), had a life expectancy measured in weeks, and had declined all treatment. I also learned that although the cold was not directly related to her AML, she might be in a weakened enough condition from it that she might not survive the cold. But she didn’t have pneumonia.
Mom had learned about the AML the week before, which is why she objected to my calling her doctor. She said she didn’t want to ruin our holidays. She knew it would be her last.
We got through the holidays. We had some fun, although Mom was exhausted from Christmas Day onward. We kept her warm, fed her soup, and talked, and talked, and talked. We made sad calls to family members, and we planned for Mom’s return to Virginia, this time accompanied by me. From that Thursday that I picked her up in Buffalo, until March 28, 2007, we never had a day apart.
Christmas of 2007, as a result, is a time of such mixed feelings. I didn’t know whether I even wanted to decorate, then I could hear Mom’s counsel reverberating in my head: “Of course you will decorate! You wouldn’t be YOU without a Christmas tree!” I listened, and I’m glad I did. It’s a toned-down, low-key Christmas this year. We won’t be entertaining like we’ve done in the past, and we’ll be heading off to Chicago after Christmas for a long-overdue visit with Don’s family. The tears are a bit closer to the surface than they’ve been in months, but I fight the melancholy mood. And I know that Christmas 2008 will be easier.