109. When Santa Doesn’t Come

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.


You are looking at a family who knows how to make sacrifices.  Like not getting any Christmas presents.  For two years in a row.  Even the Baby Jesus got presents.

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’.

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5 Responses to 109. When Santa Doesn’t Come

  1. Joan Fitzpatrick says:

    Believe me, it didn’t seem that bad. They were such good patients. They both liked farina. I couldn’t stand it. When I served it I called it wallpaper paste. I fed it to them and they had a smile on their face. You made it sound too gloomy.

  2. Denise says:

    I’ve been thinking about Grandpa all morning today, just as I do every Christmas eve, and again on the anniversary of Grandma’s death in January. Ask me the day of their birth, and I’m ashamed to say, I don’t know for sure, but ask me their death, and even what day of the week it was, and I can tell you. Even what clothes Pete Teahen wore that morning in January (did I ever want to shoot the messenger that morning!!)

    Make no mistake, Aunt Patty and Uncle Leo, it was Mom and Dad that made all the sacrifices those two years, and they still made the holidays special for us. In fact, it’s the Thanksgivings and Christmas(es?) of 76 and 77 that I recall the most. While they were quiet occasions (which was unusual for us, as we’re a loud lot–little known secret ;)), I think it was the time that our family was the most bonded as a group. Emotionally holding each other during those days.

    Mom is right, they were the sweetest people even in spite of their physical pain. Mom was so strong, and so efficient and so respectful of them and their privacy, and then would hide her tears from a house full of zombie/people. I respect her so much for the things she did for them and the gentle way she treated them during their final months.

    And it’s a rare man, too, that allows his in-laws into his home knowing it’s their final days to pass. Never was there a cross word or complaint about giving up his home to their care. Classy.

    Those two years are the best and worst memories in my life. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I wouldn’t have traded them for the world.

  3. Rene' Melchior says:

    I remeber Dad carring Grandma downstairs for a change of scenery very frequently. I remember Grandma recieving a compliment , ” Your as pretty as a rose this morning”, and her comment was ” Maybe a yellow one”. She was always beautiful to me. She always had a smile, and never complained around my hearing. As an adult now i realise how hard that would have been. I remeber the day that Grandma relayed a messg. that she recieved while in bed. Gold lettering on the ceiling told her that her pain would soon be relieved. I thought that meant that she would be well. Unfortunately not. Soon it came true. I remember Grandpa in the living room playing sharades with me. He had lost his speach very early in his illness. We got very good at it. I also remember that he couldn’t eat anything with too much texture. Not sure if it was because he couldn’t wear his teeth or couldn’t chew well. With all the baby food he had to eat, I was determined to find anything soft that would be enjoyable to eat. When I fed Grandpa he at least got his babyfood salted. This was a big NONO for some medical reasons. At that point, after watching Grandma died, I didn’t think it much mattered anymore. I loved spending time with him. After a huge blizzard that we had, simalar to the ones mentioned in an earlier blog, the snow was irrisistable. The three youngest of us broke one of the most goldenest of golden rules. We TOUCHED the Living room cutains. We opened them all the way. ( I’m croosing myself now just in case). Then we all bundled up and went out for a great snow ball fight right in front of grandpas bed. It was the first big screen live TV. Reality at that. After what seemed forever, we came back in and stripped out of our wet clothes. Then I remember going in to see grandpa, he had a huge smile on his face. My hands and face were still freezing cold and he tried to warm them with his hands. It was a short deversion for him. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. Those were not all sad days for us, it was a time to become close to a set of grandparents that we loved and couldn’t spend as much time with because of distance early in our lives. We got a chance to love them back.

  4. Denise says:

    Speaking of charades with Grandpa—remember how he called us all, “Hey Kid”, because he couldn’t remember our names? HAHA!! He was so cute!

  5. Rene' Melchior says:

    Remember how many Gradkids he had, I have trouble with the ones I have, And I don’t have near as many!

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