Sunday, December 31, 2017

Auld Lang Syne and other New Years thoughts

I'd been approaching the new year with trepidation. In my mind, all I could picture was the fact that neither of my parents had made it to 2018. It would be the first full year that they weren't around at all together or apart. And I grieved for all that was lost. But then I began to look back, way back. To a time when I was a little girl. I thought about the days leading up to New Years, and how special they had always been.

I remember when I was little, in the week between Christmas and New Years. Mom always donned a festive tablecloth over our table, and upon it were cut glass bowls of fruit, silver trays of nuts in their shells, and the nut cracking implements laid off to the side. There were Torrones, the little Italian boxes piled high on a plate, dried figs, and scads of her homemade cookies on a tiered metal holder. These stayed throughout the week, lest a visiting relative miss out on a table made ready.

In our fireplace colorful, discarded wrapping paper was waiting for the fire that my father would soon build. My toys lay scattered under the tree, a mixmash of dollies, games, and other assorted items, blending in with the manger set; the camels, wise men and holy family. And don't tell me you never played with the set under your own tree. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds had quite a few adventures under ours!

Our large picture window which faced the road, was painstakingly hand-painted by my father, adorned with all the wonderful decorations of the season. Through it, I could watch the falling snow, the passersby, and my cousins as they filed out of their cars so they could play with (and sometimes break) my new toys.

Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would visit during this most festive time. Talk was lively and loud--true Italians do not merely talk with their hands. Everyone tried to outdo one another with gift-giving tales, stories of food, and memories of their own youth.

We also would venture to the homes of other relatives in that week. My mother would insist that I stop playing with my precious new toys and that I could not bring them with me to our outing.Though I never complained, I longed for the new Playdoh set, favorite doll, or latest family fun game while it seemed like forever that my parents talked and talked and talked to the relative we were visiting.

New Years Eve would arrive, and though my parents were not drinkers, it was the one time, perhaps that I would see each of them with a tiny glass of wine to toast the new year. I was given ginger ale or some other childlike substitute. The song Auld Lang Syne always brought a lump to my throat even then.

As the years passed, the special holiday week leading up to the new year was filled with new memories after my brother arrived. Then marriage would follow for me a few years later, and then my own child. I sit here now wondering where the time has flown to, for it feels like yesterday that I was the child.

With fresh hopes and dreams in mind, we each face the ticking of the clock, the countdown of the crystal ball on Times Square. Auld Lang Syne still will bring a tear to some of our eyes, and we, too, will become the memory for our own children and grandchildren.

A good friend had this to say when I told her how sad I felt about my parents not seeing the new year:
Your parents were such love birds. Just think. They will never have to begin another year separated from one another.....

Yes, I believe that.  And what of your own losses? What of the changes of life, the ups and downs of health issues, the fact that we all must leave our youth behind and memories that held our family together?  I believe they, too, go on . . .

Modern English version of Auld Lang Syne:
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten,
And days of long ago!
For times gone by, my dear
For times gone by,
We will take a cup of kindness yet
For times gone by.

 Pictures from my youth. You'll notice the picture window that my dad hand painted.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Bittersweet Christmas Visit

Tomorrow my brother and I will visit the residents at the care facility which housed our mom for several months this year bringing them a little Christmas cheer. It will be the first time I've been back there since she passed away, and a very bittersweet visit for me. For I'll picture Mom around every corner, in all her usual places. The dining room where she sat with other ladies, enjoying small parties that were held there. The hallways we wheeled through, and even walked when she was still able. The outdoor seating area where I would take her for little rides round and round with her wheelchair, as I talked about the chirping birds, blue skies, butterflies--anything to share with her.

I'll see her petting the resident dogs, becoming so animated when they were near. And then I'll envision her sneaking morsels of food to them while another lady yelled for her to stop. There should be familiar faces: the nurses and aides who gave tirelessly of themselves to her. Some of the residents we had gotten to know well and spoken with, each with their own life story.

But when it comes time to walk past the last place I spent time with my mother, her room, I know my heart and soul will grow quiet, for it will almost be holy ground for me. I will picture myself touching her hair and face lightly while singing songs that she sang to me as a child. I will watch her chest rise and fall, every breath precious as she began the process of leaving this world. I'll remember how her eyes were focused above her--on things I could not imagine.

I'd pictured what Christmas might be like this year before we knew we were losing Mom. How the holiday would be so different without her at home, and how we would cope with celebrating in a nursing home. I thought we would have her much longer. I couldn't imagine what life would be like without her. Yet here we are now, facing the first Christmas without both of our parents.

I feel her near many times. I've dreamed beautiful dreams of her, some that feel like she is right there with me. And I hold fast to items she once held dear: a wedding band, a cat necklace, simple clothing and many pictures.

I think about tomorrow and realize that the care home is only a building, nothing fancy or special. But it's the place where beautiful souls sometimes have to wander before their final journey home. My mother journeyed there, but didn't stay very long. God called to her, and Dad waited for her. And when she said the words, "I want to go home," God answered.