This time of year is especially hard for me. Several Christmases ago my mother was very ill. The years of Benson and Hedges had taken their toll. I’m still not sure it wasn’t a bit of the Aqua-net hairspray that had clogged her lungs too. She was one of the toughest, most determined people I have ever had the pleasure to know and love. She fought cancer hard even though she knew it would eventually win. She had been a nurse for over 45 years she had seen it all. She knew all about the good the bad and the horrible of treatments. She went at her disease like she did everything in life whole hearted and steadfast. She was a fighter and she was fighting her disease with all her might. It had weakened her resistance and her bones. She had fallen at Thanksgiving breaking a hip which in turn resulted in a deep vein thrombosis. Yet still on she trod.
My sister gathered her belongings and traveled the 1700 miles away from her children and her husband to be with my mother the summer she became ill. She thought she would be there for a couple of weeks but instead she was there for more than six months. She went through chemo-therapy, radiation, vitamin and mineral therapy with my mother. She stood by her side through it all as did my daddy. There were tense times, some sad times and some funny times but through it all we all remained positive.
This is my mother and Killer. Killer was trying to soak up my mother's cancer.
I was finally able to arrange some time away from my job and family and went to relieve my sister. My niece, Tooter, had also taken some time to be with her grandmother as did my own daughter, Tadpole. My mother was convinced that we needed to go all out for Christmas. It was after all her first great grandchild’s first Christmas and she wanted to see her little eyes light up over the tree and the presents.
This is Meme and Miss Priss, her first great-grandchild. She had a way with babies. She was the Baby Whisperer.
Deep down inside I think she knew it was her last Christmas even though she didn’t want to admit it and we didn’t want to believe it.
I did all of her Christmas shopping for her. I ran all over town with her list that she painfully and carefully made out the night before my shopping trips. She would agonize over what to get this one or what that one wanted. I went as far as it took to get the things on her list. I would arrive home after a day of shopping the limited stores in our home town and fighting the crowds to find her with yet another list of errands to run. I would then sit in the floor and wrap packages while my mother supervised.
Do you think there are enough presents?
She would sit in her chair with the blankets over her swollen legs and she would hand out orders to me and Tooter. You see Tooter had been commissioned to decorate for the impending Christmas season. She was very exact in what she wanted and how she wanted it done. She would check Tooter’s accomplishments with the diligence of a drill sergeant inspecting a recruit’s weapon. She would tell her to lower this ornament or put more bows on this side of the tree or that side of the tree.
Again here is Meme and Killer. They were inseparable.
Tooter had tremendous care and tenderness for the grandmother who had cuddled, bathed and diapered her from the moment she came into our lives. Tooter would sleep at the end of her Meme’s bed just in case she needed something in the middle of the night. The love that her granddaughters had for their grandmother was inspiring and heart warming. All of her grandchildren loved their Meme, but since Tooter and Tadpole had both lived with her they worshipped her. Tadpole deferred to Meme and no one else where her own child was concerned. There was a grandmother-daughter bond there that could not be separated by anything.
Meme loved all of her grandchildren. Here she is with Missy her youngest granddaughter.
A week before Christmas she began having trouble breathing and we had to admit her to the hospital. It was the very same hospital where she had nursed the sick and dying for 45 years. The same hospital where she worked tirelessly to make those who were infirm and beleagured better with the miracle of modern medicine and the touch of a cool and compassionate hand. The nurses flocked to her bedside and all wanted to make sure she was comfortable and in no pain.
The clot in her leg had broken loose and she lost her battle 4 days before Christmas. My family went ahead and had Christmas as usual because that was what she wanted. My sister for whom I had bought many gifts for from my mother, looked at me when the boxes were all open and the tears were all shed and said what did she get you? I don’t believe my sister ever thought that I had been the one doing the shopping and the wrapping that there hadn't been a present under the tree for me. I know in my heart that my present was that my mother entrusted me to get exactly what she wanted for everyone and to make sure that Christmas went on like it always had before.
Ever since that Christmas presents are not the same to me. I no longer look to see what packages are under the tree. I look to see what gifts I have been allowed to give. The gift of giving a kind word or a hug. The opportunity to encourage someone to live life fuller and happier. The ability to bring a smile to someone who otherwise was having a dark and dreary day. The gift of truth and the gift of love being the ones that I enjoy giving the most. I give those who read my writings the gift of my life in humor and satire. I give you my heart.
Thank you Meme for the gift you gave me. The gift of love and the heart with which to love.