If you watch Saturday Night Live, you’re acquainted with a character named Debbie Downer. Debbie’s claim to fame is that she always manages to put a damper on whatever fun might otherwise prevail. She must take lessons from Octo-woman.
It was the night before Christmas, 33 years ago, when my father, Jim Gorman, died at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was 76 years old.
Here it is today, Christmas Eve: the stockings are hung by the chimney with care in the hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there, etc., and here is Octo-woman bringing up yet another tale of woe.
I know this doesn’t contribute to the jolly spirit of the day, but once I started blobbing about important dates in our family, I’m too anal to stop. I’m a Virgo.
My father will always be dear to my heart. You can read more about him on # 25 Vocabulary Blues and on later blobs coming up. My dad was a good man and true — the only bad thing he ever did in his life was to die on Christmas Eve.
A mortician told me one time, “There is no ‘good’ day to die.” And it’s true. There indeed are no good days to die, but Christmas Eve is a TERRIBLE day to die. To the children affected by the death, it’s the day that Santa’s supposed to come, and doesn’t. The only thing worse, is when it happens two years in a row.
Dad died just 11 months after my mother’s death so they both died in 1977. Both of my hard-working parents lived productive and honorable lives and God rewarded them with a gift of inestimable value — my sister, Joan, and her entourage – husband Tommy, and children Chris, Tim, Jeff, Rene’, Denise and Dennis.
Joan nursed Mother through the final months of her life till she died of the cancer she had struggled with for several years. For weeks, the living room at the Fitzpatrick’s in 1976 was set up as a hospital room. Instead of a Christmas tree, it contained a hospital bed. Instead of presents, it was full of basins, supplies, linens and equipment needed to care for the very ill. There was no Sugar Plum Fairy in attendance, unless you could count Joan, or the public health nurse who came to administer injections.
For the four kids still living at home, it must have been bleak. My sister had her hands full, and Tommy did, too. Grandma Josie was very, very sick. In times of crisis, the children probably had to fend for themselves, but Fitzpatrick kids are a stoic lot and I’ll bet neither Joan nor Tommy heard any complaints or disappointment voiced about how Christmas just wouldn’t happen that year. Maybe next year.
Next year came. It was 1977. In January, Grandma Josie died.
After a while, the hospital bed was sent back to the rental store. Shortly after, Grandpa Jim became sick. He was diagnosed with a malignant and inoperable brain tumor. Joan was a caregiver, once again. Once again, the endless round of medical visits. Once again, Dad’s condition became terminal and he was hospitalized until his insurance ran out. Once again, the Fitzpatrick’s living room contained a hospital bed instead of a Christmas tree. And once again, the kids’ exciting Christmas preparations didn’t happen. Joan told me she can’t remember for sure, but she knows she didn’t do any shopping or decorating or any of the usual holiday activity.
On Christmas Eve, Dad’s condition became critical and they had to take him to the hospital. Joan had just got home, when the phone rang and she was urged to return. She did, and was with Grandpa Jim when he died in late afternoon.
My brother Leo and I will always be in debt to our sister for the generous and loving care she gave our parents. She’s not the only hero in the story, though. She couldn’t have suffered those experiences without the support of Tommy and their children.
Chris and Tim were young adults at the time. Chris, already married to Mark Milner, had just delivered her second child – Corey – one month before Dad’s death. Jeff, 18, and Rene’ 15, still lived at home, as did the twins Denise and Dennis, 13.
I can’t find a photo of them from around that time. The one below was taken about 9 years earlier. I’ll replace it if I can find one from 1977. There’s a reason I’m including a photo of them here. Look at it very closely. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I can see halos around their heads. Tell me if I’m wrong.
Speaking of the Baby Jesus, I hope he smiles on you all day today, tomorrow on His birthday, and forever.
(And now, this is Debbie Downer, over and out.)
Well, not quite over and out. My niece Rene’ just sent me this photo she found that’s closer in age to “the way they were” in 1977. Thank you, Rene’.