Christmas Spirit

This Christmas was very different from Christmases past. My husband was 2,100 miles away for ten days, and there were three weather events during that time. His flights got all messed up on his way home due to weather, and he ended up spending a sleepless night in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. His flight took off without a hitch in the morning but then was unable to land due to weather and got rerouted to Connecticut. He had to take a bus back to Albany. He finally arrived home in the early evening and by morning had come down with the flu, which had him bedridden and moaning in agony for three days straight, including Christmas.

Amidst all that, my report cards were due before leaving for the holiday break. And my mom was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, which makes all the other grumps and groans seem so trivial.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the time or energy to get into the Christmas spirit. There was too much going on. We didn’t send out Christmas cards or put up a tree or even any lights. We didn’t take a single Christmas decoration out of the box. I had intended to run errands and do a little shopping to finish the gifts I was making but never got around to it. Instead, I spent the few days before Christmas in quiet retreat at home. Although I didn’t have much Christmas spirit, I abided deep in spirit.

While wrapping presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that there was something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time. Despite feeling very far behind in getting ready for Christmas with family the next day, I knew that going to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents took precedence over all else. I used to enjoy the Christmas Eve service when I was a child and had been wanting to go with my parents for many years but never did for whatever reason.

The other stuff clamoring to be done was ultimately not all that important. Nothing having to do with stuff is ultimately important, especially if it gets in the way of spending precious time with loved ones…now…because we can.

So I went to church, and my sister came along, too. It had been about 30 years since either of us had been to church with our parents, and they were surprised, to say the least. During that service, I received the most wonderful gift of Christmas. At the end when we were all holding our lit candles and singing “Silent Night,” my parents whispered something to each other then looked at my sister and me and smiled the most beautiful smiles. It was a moment of savoring that we are all here together in this perfect moment. It was beautiful. 

My parents commented afterward that it was just like old times when we were kids except that they didn’t have to force us to go to church. I stayed up much later than I’d intended talking with them and am so glad I did. 

Christmas was quite an emotional day for my family, although my mom’s spirit is strong, and we probably had the most meaningful Christmas together ever. I recorded video of her playing “Winter Wonderland” on piano. That is the one song she has memorized all these years – for as long as I can remember. She apologized for being a little rusty but explained it was because she really hadn’t played piano at all since she took up guitar a couple years ago. Needless to say, making video recordings of her playing guitar is high up on my to-do list. 

A posed shot of my parents followed immediately by a candid

At one point, my dad said, “Be grateful for every day because it might be your last.” Isn’t it the truth? The only moment we are guaranteed is this moment. Of all of us, he is most acutely aware of this after suffering cardiac arrest back in February. That he survived is a gift. I remember that evening as we drove to the hospital not knowing if we would arrive to find him dead or alive. That I could talk briefly with him before he was transported to another hospital was a gift. I was grateful to at least have that. But we were given so much more. Time together is the greatest gift of all, especially when you realize how precious and limited it is. 

Health crises like this put everything else into perspective and reorder one’s priorities. You realize immediately what is important and what is not – and where your attention needs to be. I am grateful for all of the teachers and experiences that have prepared me to face my mom’s illness and the family dynamics related to it with greater consciousness, love, and selflessness than I might have otherwise. Furthermore – and although it may sound absurd to speak of blessings with regard to a cancer diagnosis – one thing for which I am grateful is the gift of time for love and healing. How often do we bump along the road of life thinking we have all the time in the world – and can put things off until later? And then something awakens us and gives us the opportunity to let go of everything that gets in the way of living and loving to the fullest right now. I think of September 11th, 2001 and wonder how many people had an epiphany right before jumping to their death. That we can awaken with any time at all to set things right is a tremendous spiritual blessing. Let’s be grateful for each day and live as fully as possible one day at a time, focusing like a laser on what is most important: Love.

Healing prayers for my mom and our family are most appreciated.

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