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The Magic of Christmas

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Normally at this time of year we are at the Balsams resort in Dixville Notch New Hampshire. It is a truly wonderful place, someplace that transports us to a more centered and tranquil self. This would have been around the tenth year in a row I think. We always seem to be blessed when we go there with plenty of snow and great times. We have never been washed out or denied a white Christmas while there.

It’s been a rough Fall.

On November 6, Sally’s Dad passed away. He fell and broke his hip in the middle of August and slid away day by day from then to his passing. During his decline it was Sally’s organization and near constant attention to the affairs of an sick parent that consumed nearly all of her time. Our getaway for her birthday in October was a welcome island of relief in what was otherwise a storm of tasks and trials. Her fathers passing however did not mark the passing of the need for her involvement. If anything it just ratcheted up from there.

Less than a week after his death, Sally had located an appropriate assisted living facility for Julia, her mother, and just about a week from the day, we had Julia and Jax (her cat) moved into here new apartment. A lovely place and a perfect arrangement. You would think that there would be time to rest now, but the organization of the estate beckoned and Sally was the primary person responsible for closing accounts, opening new ones, powers of attorney…. Long long list.. One of the items on the list was transporting Julia to doctor appointments and such.

Sally, Nancy, David and Julia - 1960
Sally, Nancy, David and Julia - 1960

Just last Monday (today is Friday) Sally took Julia to our primary care physician. She was tired beyond where she felt was right and an appointment was made as a precaution. When the blood work came back later that afternoon, the doctor called and we had Julia admitted to the emergency room and then the cardiac care ward at Maine Medical. Instead of skiing and snow shoe romps at the Balsams, Sally was sleeping in chairs next to her mother in a bedside vigil that lasted until Thursday night when she was transported to a Hospice. At this point, a shout out to the good people and staff at Maine Med, Floor Six, Cardiac Care. Wow. Amazing. Thank you so much. This was to be my introduction to palliative care and the business of planning for death. Meeting the people who work around this situation day after day and approach it with such grace, empathy and professionalism was eye opening. As the days went on – I had a sense of balance with it all that I did not expect. If you know me, you know that I can be grumpy and gruff – and patience with a situation is something I am almost always in need of working on, yet I found myself more tolerant and forgiving of the little bumps we all have to roll over in daily life. What matters versus what was trivial was as clear as it has ever been. Focused and centered was what I was becoming.

Tonight is Christmas Eve. I made dinner for Sally and her brother and sister and brought it down to the hospice. If Julia ever knew I was there, she never showed it. Deep in a morphine soaked haze, it seems like nobody is going to have a conversation with her again. That however did not prevent us from gathering around her bed, opening presents while ‘The Christmas Song’ played in the background. Then it was time for the singing of Christmas songs and the telling of early memories of Christmas eve’s of days past as children. This all around Julia’s death bed. Now, prior to this I would not have imagined the sense of peace and comfort with the situation that had developed. This was a heavy hearted scene – but – There was happiness in the midst of Julia’s passing. There were people coming together – Love and compassion. Care and understanding. There was in many ways more of the true meaning of Christmas this night than any I can recall.

I left Sally at the hospice, headed home to take care of the cats (now including Jax) and dogs. The moon, now a few nights past full was bright, huge and low on the horizon over the ocean – The sky was clear and what stars could make it through the bath of moonlight complete the scene. I have the radio on and a choral group is preforming traditional medieval Christmas music. The sky had become the cathedral and choral seemed to be originating from somewhere deep inside my heart or head. I rolled on through the night, heading home past houses with lights and tree’s in the window and gathered family. For some this would be their first Christmas, for others – The last.

On the way home I found myself transported to someplace tranquil, more centered, and a better version of myself.

This was my gift this night – Given to me by Julia, and wrapped by her children. I will cherish it.

Thank you. I will take good care of Jax.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Jax

(EDIT: Julia passed away at 11PM Christmas Eve)

12 COMMENTS

  1. Mike and Sally-

    Mike, such a tragic night on Christmas
    Eve was written and transformed to a magical farewell. One could only wish to pass with loved ones around and still celebrating Christmas with the peaceful ease into another stage of life- I am sure she is with her husband now. It doesn’t seem unusual when couples who are so bonded pass within close time frames.
    You

    • Sally and Michael,
      You are in my thoughts today. I’m grateful to read this the first thing on Christmas morning. Julia passed along a special gift to many today through your blog, Mike. Thank you. Sally, your compassion and gifts of time inspire me. Merry Christmas and peace to all (and an extra cheek rub to Jax).

  2. Mike,

    Such a beautiful essay – it is truly a blessing to have help from people who have faced death before – it helps make the death a bit more of a reality before it actually happens, as well as less of a frightening thing, and more of a natural progression of a life.

    Thank you for the imagery and compassion for your wife and her family.

    Sally,

    I’m so sorry to hear that your parents passed so close to each other, but as Lisa says, it’s so often the case.

    I’m glad you had the time with her at the end in Hospice – even if she wasn’t responsive, I’m sure her spirit knew she was surrounded by family, love, and caring.

    Take heart in the next days – it surely does feel as if the world should stop when a parent dies – but they’re always with us in our hearts.

    Kate

    • Thank you Kate –

      Through it all, not a thing diminished from Christmas – If anything we were all lifted by the true spirit found in the most critical moments of life – the last moments.

      Yes – A natural progression.

      Michael.

  3. So sorry to hear about your loss and at the same time Thankful for your insight and gifts.. You both are surely blessed. Love and Peace to you both always.. Love Sue and Preston

  4. We are so sorry for your loss! Your essay is a absolutely beautiful salute to a family! You both will be in our thoughts and prayers! Please let us know if there is anything we can do! Love Donna and John

  5. A powerful and telling piece of writing, my friend. My condolences to both of you. There is something about this time of year that calls people on .. . Ann Marie’s dad died on Christmas Day five years ago, and I had two friends perish from heart attacks on Wednesday. Sigh.
    Keep the faith.
    Harry

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