Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Wonder

At any age the sight of twinkling lights can bring us back to our childhood, to simpler times gone by and days when we had no responsibilities or regrets. Thinking back to those years should give us a happy glow, yet  we sigh a bit reminiscing about the innocence, the times before the world and some of its harsh realities got to us.

Take my mother, Eileen, for instance. She was a lovely little girl, born into a family who had lived through the great depression. A sweet child who had no knowledge of some of the rough roads ahead. Families were poor in the 1930's and 1940's and Christmas gifts were some of the last things parents would worry about. Yet one year, an elderly man who lived near young Eileen took it upon himself to bestow one of the best Christmas gifts she'd ever receive.

Mom often talked about getting fruits and nuts in a Christmas stocking, but this particular Christmas, the elderly gentleman brought a package wrapped in tissue paper. "For the little girl," he'd said, coat buttoned against the cold, frosty breath blowing before him as he handed it to Mom's mother, Louise. Nobody knew why he'd chosen to bring this one special gift to a little girl he barely knew, but when Mom opened the package, a most beautiful dolly peeped out at her. Brown curly hair, blue snowsuit with fur trim, my mother beheld something she'd only dreamed about.

The cherished doll was priceless to her, a lovey to hold on nights when an drunken father spouted abusive words. The doll was her strength and belief that kindness existed, and perhaps there was goodness around the corner.

Mom would tell years later that her most prized gift vanished when she and her family moved to a new house. She'd walk past the old apartment she'd lived in, trying to peek through a window to see if the doll was still there. She never saw it again.

Years would bring sadness to Mom as she lost a beloved sister and mother at early ages. Two miscarriages would follow and she somehow held on. Yet she would survive a cardiac arrest and live to tell an amazing story of the afterlife. With a good man at her side, and two children of her own, life settled into a routine as it usually does.

Now later in life, as older age takes hold, Mom relives precious memories and the stories which meant so much to her. She's spoken recently more and more of the beautiful doll she'd once received, and the kindness of a stranger one Christmas night.

I've talked about our Christmases before and the generosity of my brother. How each year he picks one of us and tries to replicate a gift from our past, searching until he finds it on Ebay perhaps or some other venue. This year he researched dolls with fur snowsuits from Mom's childhood era.

Yesterday, as Mom began opening her last gift, her face crinkled into a frown. She peeled layers of tissue paper from the box and then began to cry. For there, before her was a doll, much like the one of her youth. Years melted away and the little girl, untouched by sadness and grief once again shone like the sun.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Saying Goodbye

The phone call came around three o'clock this afternoon; Hospice care at the nursing home where Uncle Hubert has resided for several years. "He's failing," they said. "Let family members know who may want to come and say goodbye to him."

I left work with a pit in my stomach, fear rolling in my gut. I can't do this. I've never had to visit a dying person before, let alone someone I've been extremely close to. I phoned a dear friend, someone who'd gone through tough times in his life, someone who'd had to go through this very thing a few years ago. His words will remain with me forever. For he said that God specifically chose me to be an ambassador of the family. God has my back, and will give me the courage and peace I need to walk through that door. My friend promised to pray for me and I sped toward the nursing home with my own prayers under my breath.

When I walked through the front doors and was greeted by the receptionist who I'd known for the longest time, I instantly burst into tears. She was particularly close to Uncle Hubert, and she hugged me and let me cry. And when I walked the long walk in the hallways to his room for what might be the last time, I kept thinking to myself, "I cannot do this." One step. "I'll probably crumble." Second step. One foot in front of the other, I made it to the room and was instantly greeted by the kindest hospice people, one of whom was a chaplain. They explained Uncle Hubert's condition to me, and as I saw him in what seemed a peaceful sleeping state, the tears spilled once again. His breathing was soft, his eyes tightly closed, but as I touched his arm and whispered how much he meant to me and how much I love him, he seemed to relax even more.

Other loved ones arrived and we all celebrated his life. His very good life. A feeling of peace washed over me as I've never experienced especially in such a stressful situation. I know it was the prayers of several people, and also the knowledge of where Uncle Hubert is headed. For his bent, old body will soon be made straight. His aches and pains, soon gone. He will run and laugh, never to cry again or know fear or sadness.

It is this thought dear friends, which sustains us. The thought of where we are headed, not where we have been. Let God's peace carry you through the difficult moments of life, even watching beloved loved ones as they breathe their last.