Before I begin writing, you have the courtesy of a warning. There are squillions of warm and fuzzy, festive and funny, light and nostalgic, spiritual and thought-provoking blog posts waiting to be read. This is not one of them. This is one of those times I long for a real pensieve, so I could empty my mind…and heart…of heavy thoughts; not to forget them, just to store them away for a time when there weren’t so many of them.
For over a week, I’ve been painfully reminded that Christmas is not a happy time for many people. Perhaps in their own childhood, there was abuse or neglect, or maybe it was a simple case of parents so caught up in the trappings of the season, it held no meaning or circumstance apart from excessive materialism, which ultimiately breeds discontent. For others, perhaps loss of a loved one leaves them feeling lonely and in grief. There are a million scenarios with just as many sad circumstances, and several of these have hit very close to home.
My former pastor lost his wife this Spring to leukemia. She was also a good friend to me. Married for over 30 years, she LOVED Christmas, her home was decorated from roof to, I imagine, basement. Think Griswolds, lol. There wasn’t a room in their house that didn’t have some kind of Christmas icon, a gazillion Santa Clauses, which I always thought funny. She hosted parties for anyone and everyone because that fed her soul; and a tradition for me and my children was to visit them each season, mainly to look at her Christmas village. Because they had pastored for years, they had many friends in many places; everyone knew Anne loved Christmas, and whenever they were looking for a gift to give her, they’d choose a piece of this village for her. Her family must’ve done the same. It was the most extensive city I’ve ever seen before, she had more pieces than most stores who sell the stuff–MOVING pieces, too. Carousels and ice skating rinks and I think Santa with a sleigh flying around. My kids loved it, and their Christmas train, too. This will be Shelton’s (and their adult children and grandchildren) first Christmas without her. He’s been on my mind a lot. They were more than pastor and wife to our family, they invited us into their lives.
Then, there’s Sandy and Alice. Their husbands left them last week. LAST WEEK! These are not close friends of mine, but they are in my “sphere” and they are friends. Between the two of them, they have six children. In one case, it’s been coming for a long time; but in the other, total shock (at least publically). My heart BREAKS for these women who are dying on the inside, who don’t want this to be happening, who are helpless to stop it. I’m sure they are shell-shocked and going through the motions for the sake of their children. Their children…their babies…who most certainly are not having a “merry Christmas” and will possibly be over-indulged with “things” to compensate for this loss of daddy. Maybe not, but I could see it. How could these husbands–FATHERS–leave their families NOW? Whatever happened last weekend, didn’t just happen then, why couldn’t they suck it up for the sake of their kids? It infuriates me and grieves me.
Similarly, we received a Christmas card from one of my dearest friends this week. It was she and her two children. Her divorce is in the final stages, and the absence of her husband in the picture was a visual reminder that her marriage is almost dead. I know my friend, I KNOW what she was thinking when that photograph was taken; I can imagine what was going through her children’s minds. Their eyes bespoke sadness, I wonder if anyone else sees that.
Then there’s my friend, Teresa. I’ve written about her before, one of my earliest posts. I wish I could say I’ve spent more time with her the past year than I have; it’s easy not to make time for her. Recently, she’s been back in the hospital, twice in the past three weeks. They’re poor. They’re renting a home and have the bare essentials. We’ve been in touch lately because I can’t bear the thought of her daughter not having gifts for Christmas (she’s 14). What Teresa wants to get for her daughter is not excessive; it’s not socks and underwear, but it’s not too far removed from that. The Christmas money she had was stolen when she was admitted to the hospital last week. Barely able to speak, she called me, frantic. That part can be fixed; what can’t be is Teresa’s health. She’s been given–her “best” case scenario–a two-year life sentence. While she was in the hospital this time, I asked her if they had a Christmas tree. Again, I’m looking at what we have, and I’m reminded of what they don’t. Her reply? She had splurged on a $29 pre-lit tree (a 60% off bargain), and she was pleased–“We’ve come a long way from last year, last year we didn’t even have one” (they were in a motel at the time). When I asked her what we could do for her, she just asked for my friendship, she needed a friend to help encourage her when she was down; she’s also trying to stop smoking and asked me to hold her accountable. She’s held onto that because it’s the one thing in her life she can control, it’s her way of “giving the finger” to her plight. I’d probably smoke, too, if I was her.
These are some of the biggies, there are other “lesser” things going on around me, lesser only in comparison, not because they aren’t significant.
I’m a positive person, always looking for the good in people and circumstance. It’s my modus operandi. I believe Romans 8:28 with all my heart. I believe there’s an ebb and flow to life described beautifully and familiarly in Ecclesiastes 3.
But this week, I started “sinking”. I figured it was due from the weight of the above, but then it occurred to me it was more than that. One year ago today, while I was visiting my father in the hospital, the doctor unexpectedly told us he was in his dying hours…that “this” was it…that he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. Daddy was in good physical health, but having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s summer before last, his mental health was not good. That being said, he was fully functioning, even driving (yikes!), prior to the hospital ER giving him a dose of seroquel that his body had an adverse reaction to, leading to a chain of events that almost killed him. It appears he actually has Lewy Bodies Disease, the second most common form of dementia behind Alzheimers, but an important distinction because of the patient’s likely adverse reaction to “typical” drugs used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimers.
We reeled under the news of my father’s impending death, it was a shock. My sister and brother drove to meet me and his wife at the hospital, and we all had the opportunity to tell him “good-bye”. Looking back, I can’t help but smile, I swear we looked like a bad made-for-tv-movie, each one of us telling him the cliche things you’re supposed to tell someone in these circumstances, for us, they fit (and of course, it was very personal). As the night progressed, Daddy began to improve. By improve, I mean gaining consciousness and talking out of his mind, trying desperately to carry on conversation with us, but making no sense, eventually entertaining us with his insanity and inappropriateness. We cried oceans that day; first from grief, eventually, from hilarity. A surreal day from start to finish.
That was a year ago today. He didn’t die, not physically, anyway. But that would have been a much kinder fate than the year we all have endured. He has had to have 24-hour care for a year. For ten months, we had caregivers with him and his wife in their home, with my siblings and I helping as often as we could. As I’ve written before, I thought it a rather noble and romantic notion for parent and child to reverse roles until I lived it, but there is nothing romantic about a daughter caring for her father. I hope with all my heart he isn’t aware of the indiginities he’s had to suffer; at times he expressed embarrassment, but you never know how much he understands.
It has become to much for him to remain at home, even with 24-hour care. For the past two months he’s been in a specialized senior mental health facility, for the purpose of regulating his behavior with meds so he would be stable enough for nursing home admittance. I can barely type that, hate doesn’t begin to express how I feel about this, despising him having to do this. He would hate this. It’s a horrible end of life. The mercy for him…and us…would have been for him to have died a year ago today. Death is not the worst thing that can happen sometimes.
Last night I received a despondent call from sister, then later his wife. It seems the facility wants him out TODAY and they’ve given us no notice. They’re saying they found a place that will take him, but it’s over five hours from his family, eight from me. All of a sudden everything is in fast gear and feels like it’s spinning out of control and I can’t do a thing about it. Their social worker told us he had been declined over a dozen times due to his behavior (he’s agitated and acts out at times) or lack of beds, but his wife discovered at least two places had either not processed his paperwork, or didn’t have it at all (she called to inquire herself). So either this social worker isn’t doing her job or she’s lying. I wish I knew the whole story, something is not adding up. In spite of a post I wrote a long, long time ago, there remains no good answer for his situation.
There are positives, at least he can afford to pay for his healthcare, something most people, I imagine, in his circumstances are not able to do. I’ve tried to seek God through the circumstance; I’ve prayed that as I come into contact with people that I wouldn’t normally apart from Daddy’s illness, I would reflect Christ in how I respond to them (sometimes that means I might be the only “Jesus” they ever see…). I’ve prayed God would continue to shape and transform ME through these crappy circumstances….
Anyway, I was already sinking before I got those calls…. I’ve found it “better” to be concerned about others, than to slow down and think about myself, but it catches up eventually I suppose. I’ve been in one of my insomnia phases, that’s gotta be a contributer to my altered state of mind, too–every night for maybe a week I wake up at 3 and can’t fall back asleep…. I envy those who sleep all night, lol, one of those things I’ve come to appreciate in my 40s, that I never knew you SHOULD appreciate…:).
It’s early…still dark outside. And raining, I do love a good rain, but this morning it personifies my spirit.
Stephen will be up soon, and we’re off to see Santa, creepy or not. It’ll do me good, that kid is STILL so excited in spite of his new-found knowledge this year. I don’t get it, but I love it.
If you read this far, and honestly, I can’t imagine anyone doing so, I’m fine…I’ll be fine. I don’t sink long and writing it has already made me feel better. If you are a person of faith, I would appreciate your prayers for Shelton…and Sandy…and Alice…and Teresa…and their families. And, oh, yeah…for me.