It was Christmas morning in the sick house. I’d been ill for days with no relief in sight and it looked like Mike had come down with this virus from hell as well. Dad was moved to memory care and was not doing well and I’d yet to go over to visit. We had to clear out the old apartment within a month but I could barely get out of bed. I did not send out Christmas cards, I did not finish my Christmas shopping, I had not made any meal preparations, and frankly had no desire to eat. I was watching the Nutcracker the night before and thought of calling my mother-in-law to tell her it was on when I remembered she was gone.
This was possibly the worst Christmas ever. I know for sure it was the worst one for Mike. My own mother made Christmas a nightmare until she disconnected from me for a blessed decade. Up to that point, I would go into the season wondering what sort of mayhem she would create. She never failed to disappoint.
As a result, I don’t have high expectations of the season. I don’t have children or grandchildren to lavish gifts and time on, the family I do have left is greatly diminished, and due to caregiving I have no spare time for volunteerism. The church I was attending decided to close, and even if I had a place for a Christmas Eve service (and there are plenty to choose from in this city of churches) I am too sick to participate.
These thoughts caused me to wonder if I could remember a good Christmas. I had to go back to my childhood when I was living with my grandparents. Christmas eve service at midnight and as we left each child would get a box of candy. There was always one really good piece of chocolate in that box. The night would be quiet and crisp and the car would be warm as we drove home. This was in the days before car seats and I could lie stretched out on the back seat looking up at the stars as Grandpa drove.
The next morning the tree was up and presents were under it. Grandma had been baking Christmas cookies for weeks and now we could have as many as we wanted. The house was filled with the aroma of food cooking. Mom had driven in from Detroit and we were all together. Grandma kept things on an even keel, but once she was diagnosed with cancer, things went downhill and Christmas was never the same.
This virus that I’ve been railing against is actually a gift. It’s made me stop to consider where I am in life. I’m coming toward the finish line. Who knows how many years we have, but I’m definitely past the half way mark. My mother-in-law is gone, and I suspect my father-in-law will die of a broken heart. He’s 95 with Alzheimer’s and can’t find his wife. My time as a caregiver is drawing to an end for now. It is time to plan on making good memories.
Happy New Year.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.