Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Season

This picture was Thanksgiving/Christmas last year. My mom looked radiant. You wouldn't even know she was so sick!

It's the season known as "The Holidays." This is a season that tends to make us all nostalgic and whimsical. Families get together, for either a peaceful traditional meal, or a crazy memorable one. Over the years, my family has experienced both. My step dad was a bit of an alcoholic, and the holidays did not tend to bring out the best in him. We had a good many crazy memorable holidays that we would probably just forget.

After he passed away in 2005, we started a new tradition. My sister, brothers and I all spent Thanksgiving with my mom. The 4 of us together on a holiday with my mom had been a rare occurance over the years.

We combined Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom pulled out the Christmas tree for the kids to decorate. Most of the ornaments were on the bottom half of the tree. The only went as high as little fingers could reach, but we didn't care. Our goal was a peaceful, no rules holiday. Decorating the tree was the fun part for the kids, who cared what it looked like. We ate our traditional Thanksgiving turkey and dressing meal on Thanksgiving day.

After eating and cleaning up, we gathered around the Christmas tree and opened gifts! Of course, my mom got everybody calenders for the next year. We opened them a the same time, and joked about not knowing what was in the gift. She always gave herself one too! The morning after, we woke up and Mama cooked "Monkey Bread." This was a treat that was reserved only for Christmas morning. Biscuit dough cut up and thrown into a round bundt pan, drizzled with cinnamon, sugar and butter, and baked until it was an ooey gooey mess.

Last year, we continued with our tradition, knowing what the future would bring, but not knowing exactly when. My mother, who had been given a 3-6 month life expectancy in October was frail and worn out from Chemotherapy. She was on a constant supply of oxygen, and was having difficulty making it to the kitchen and back. I strategically placed chairs throughout the house for her to sit and catch her breath.

She was not scheduled to have a chemo treatment that week, so we were hopeful that she could withstand the holidays. Unfortunately, the week before Thanksgiving, her blood counts were so bad, she could not get a treatment and her rescheduled treatment was for Wednesday before Thanksgiving. She just gritted her death and said, "Let's do what we gotta do." However, generally the treatments left her so sick and weak, she basically slept for two or three days. We were both afraid that would happen, but didn't mention it.

After she had her treatment Wednesday morning, she insisted that we load up the wheel chair and go to the grocery store. I offered to just go alone and let her rest, but she insisted on going. When everybody got there on Thanksgiving, she looked absolutely radiant. She cooked the entire meal, helped decorate the tree and opened presents. What a gift from God! We all knew that was the last holiday we would have with her, but had low expecations. God gave her the strength and she was able to participate. The day after everybody left, she got very sick from the treatment, and slept for three days. It was amazing how it didn't affect our holiday! The weeks before our celebration, on her good days and bad, she insisted that I take her to Dandy doodles where she painted everyone a special piece of pottery. She also made Christmast ornaments for everybody with whatever nickname she had for us. We also all 4 got matching thumb rings, engraved with "Love and Peace." She told us that she thought those were the 2 most important words, and even if we didn't wear them to just keep them and know she loved us dearly.
December 10, 2007 (My Grandmother's 84 birthday), my grandmother was visiting. My Mom had been very weak. She was having trouble eating and mostly slept. She and my grandmother were spending some much needed alone time, while I ran to Walmart. My grandmother called in a panic, saying something had happened to my mom. They were talking, and my mom just passed out and was completely not responsive. I called 911, and drove as fast as I could home to meet the ambulance.
I will spare all the details, but my mom spent the next 13 days in the Tupelo hospital. She spent most of that time, under heavy sedation. She came out of it for 1 day. That day, she woke up thinking and feeling like the whole cancer experience had been a dream. She laughed and talked with everybody. She told us to go get her a burger from Wendy's. She was able to eat it. It was another one of those blessings that didn't make sense, but we were grateful for it. When we told her she had ridden in the ambulance twice, she said "Damn, I hate I don't remember that. I have always wanted to ride in an ambulance." My mom had such an amazing sense of humor!
I took her home on December 23 to spend Christmas. She spent the following week in and out of conciousness. My Uncle came from Kansas for a visit. They had a nice time. She was so worried about giving people from the church Christmas gifts because they had done so much for her. She wanted to make a pineapple and cheese casserole for a number of people. I went to the store and got all the stuff. When I got home, she was too weak to get out of bed. I made 9 casseroles, and called the people asking them to come by. My mom got to give them their casseroles, which was really important to her. In her final hours, she was so concerned with blessing other people. She was just an extraordinary human being! I try to be that good, but it's virtually impossible.
Christmas was spent sitting with her while she slept. I watched dvds, and did sudoku puzzles. We enjoyed the visits from the home health nurses. On December 30, my mom told me that it wouldn't be much longer and that when the time came not to try to keep her here by hoping or praying. (This conversation was discussed in a prior blog). Our home health nurse that day was amazing. She had actually worked in hospice for several years, and was able to guide us through the night. She was only going to stay for a few hours, but ended up staying the entire night with me. It was a major comfort.
On December 31, 2007, my mom passed away peacefully! Me and my sister were with her.
I have missed her so much this past year, but am so very grateful for the rich blessings, she brought with her life.
This holiday season has been different. My sisters, brother and I all got together to celebrate. We combined Thanksgiving and Christmas, on a weekend that worked for all of us. I spent Thanksgiving with Roger's family, and will spend a quiet Christmas with Roger and our dog. This is a year of change. Hopefully, it is a year that will set up some traditions for years to come.
I have so many things to be grateful for. I will have to write a whole other blog for my gratitude list. But, the biggest thing I am grateful for is my friends and family. This year has proven to be difficult for me. Losing my mom was the biggest bump, breaking my arm was bad too. My friends never gave up on me, even while I struggled. They sat through my surgery, drove me around, cleaned my house, scooped cat litter and just were generally supportive! And, Roger, well he gave me a chance even when I was not easy. Somehow, I found the love of my life when I was in my hardest, darkest hour. I am grateful for his love and support! My mom told me that if she could hand pick sombody for me, it would be him. She called him "The finest man she knew." I would have to agree with that.
So, as you get together with your families this year, enjoy it! It doesn't matter if you have a crazy, dramatic holiday full of drama and memories, or just a quiet one at home. I know it sounds cheesy, but be grateful for whatever holiday you have with your family!


Dwell in possibility said...

That's a beautiful post, Joy. Your mom was an absolutely amazing woman, and the world is a little less beautiful without her. Thank you for sharing this with us.


Anisa said...

sending you a big hug! your mom was such a special lady. i know that she is so proud of you.

sending you happiness and peace this holiday season, joy!

Renee said...

Your mom was a precious person, Joy! We connected the first time I ever met her and we just talked and talked. She was just so amazing and beautiful and you are so blessed to have her as a mom. I know you treasure the memories. I'll be thinking of you on Christmas.


The Nichols Family said...

What a great post. I know your mom is so proud of you and how you have been able to move forward, even if they only seem to be baby steps some days. I hope this holiday season you can start some new traditions with your family and friends. If all else fails, we can build another gingerbread house at some point! (I found that picture from years ago the other day and just laughed!)

Paul and Amanda said...

What an awesme tradition for a family to have. I love it. I loved your mom so much! She was not only an amazing teacher, but also a second mom to most of us "band nerds" :) It also sounds like you have met an amazing man too, I am so happy for you. you jus glow in the pictures with him!! I hope you have a Merry Christmas!!