Sometimes I try to grab hold of a moment in time and its almost possible. Tickling my ‘tweenage’ daughter who isn’t really interested in being tickled anymore leads to a walk along the Riverwalk with her under my arm like she was five…but of course she is now standing at the level where she can walk under my arm, it’s a moment to cherish. Wrestling with my son until he cries ‘uncle’ and as soon as he is loose he says, ‘NO UNCLE!’ and we go again, but he’s getting stronger… I remember Christmas Day 2016 and 2017 as they were the last ones that had real magic. Both of my kids were believers and there was magic all around. Those are moments to cherish.
We survived 2018 and 2019, but not at some cost. February 2018 saw the loss of Grampy and Christmas 2018 saw hospital beds and a whole world turned upside down. In what was a moment in time that is forever etched in the memories of five of my family members, my daughter found out. We had worked really hard to make Christmas as special as possible and make sure that everything was just as it should be. Christmas morning came and Santa had visited, he had brought all sorts of cool things and two little bears to boot! It was great and the kids enjoyed a moment’s reprieve, then we made the journey to the city to go out to lunch (a new ‘tradition’, but not one that has ever taken hold though its happened more than once) and then on to the hospital. Lunch was delicious and we made our way to the hospital for a visit. Grandpa was wheeled out by Grandma and we had brought a small tree and a few gifts.
He hadn’t been here long as only a week before we were set to go on a vacation to the UK that had been planned for almost two years. A few days before we departed he went to the doctor and found out that his trip would be to KU Med instead of to Europe. The weeks that followed were filled with doctor visits, hospital stints and a short trip home that wasn’t to last.
As the gifts were opened, fun ensued as kids seem to make almost any place you have Christmas magical. Then something happened, the look on my daughters face was puzzled and I looked around to see what had happened. I noticed that two bears had been given from Grandma and Grandpa that looked oddly similar to the ones that the guy in the red suit had brought that morning. In what seemed like an eternity…that lasted probably 10 seconds…she realized that something was not as she thought it was. I couldn’t believe it was happening and was so pronounced, but as I looked around I could see that her mom, Aunt Barbara, Uncle Brandon, Aunt Brooke and I were all seeing the same thing, the glass of the magic of childhood was at first damaged, but much like a rock hitting the windshield, repairable. However, before we could manage to fix the first chip, the spiderweb started to crack across her mind and soon there was no stopping the inevitable. In this Christmas that was already tough, apparently new lessons had to be learned. So, I said, ‘C’mon sweetie’ and we walked and talked. When she came back to sit down she was forever changed, although the hints of what she knew had been there for the months leading up to that morning. We had now survived not only this Christmas, but a tough lesson in real life.
Grandma had been living at the hospital with Grandpa, so neither of them had been home, so she went one by one to greet all of the Grandkids. This had been an incredibly tough episode, so seeing the kids made all the difference and provided a momentary reprieve from reality.
Now to be clear, if anyone was ever going to spoil the magic of Christmas, my wife was sure it wouldn’t be her Hallmark loving, Christmas tradition following, Uber Christmas family…it was bound to be mine, with older nieces and nephews who hadn’t believed in a very long time. When Grandma made it to my daughter she could tell that something was wrong. For a moment we attempted to fake it and said nothing was wrong, but its Grandma, so it came out that she had just found out. Then in an unexpected and valiant effort to help her feel better about the whole thing Grandma said, “Well…you know it’s just like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny”…wow. From the look of shock on my daughters face I could see the entire sheet of glass collapse into fragments. In looking around the room there was no help, all of us were just as surprised at the outcome and after taking a vow (required by the family as a pre-nup) to never break the spirit of Christmas, I wasn’t quite sure how to recover.
Later that week the kids and I would see Grandpa for the last time. He told them to be good and was frustrated as ever by a rambunctious boy, but took time to deliver a message that he seemed to have known was his last to them. As we drove away, the tears flowed. Abie made it back a couple of times in the interim, but it wasn’t long until the call came that she needed to get there quickly. We put her on a plane and then we hit the road.
The call came when we were in Shamrock, Texas. We were filling up and the phone rang…the kids were inside and without any words I could tell from Abie’s silent sobs that he had moved on. In so many ways I try to say that no year is tougher than another. That its all how you take it, but for these two little ones who had lost one Grandpa in February of 2018, to lose the other in January of 2019 had rocked their worlds. As Grammy and I stood there and prayed with them in the parking lot there were lots of tears, then questions…then silence.
Today I look forward to Christmas as it is in this very moment, soaking up every instant. Sharing it with family and friends who I truly value, maybe more than I ever could have before. I hope I have been better at supporting my friends and family as they lose those they love. I have attended more funerals, to be there in support and delivered more meals. As a kid I could never understand why we had to make a meal for everyone, taking food around and visiting folks I didn’t know…now I get it. Its a moment in time that is indelibly marked in your memory and those family and friends that are there for you who make the moment easier to bear. There is healing in the process of death and of grieving if we look for it…friendships I have renewed because of their support and those who have always been there, but maybe I took for granted.
Today I have high hopes for Christmas 2019 and the memories that will be made today. Inevitably there will be new stories to tell that become a part of the fabric of the families we are lucky enough to share it with. Getting back to ‘normal’ the Christmas magic is scheduled to start at 0700 and inevitably some small fry will cause that to change and adjust and just maybe today we will see that as a bonus…as any delay stretches this moment out just a touch more.