110. Christmas Surprise

I’m floored.  Astonished.  Knocked for loop.

Ever since grandson Bryce launched this blob and insisted that I write an entry in it every day till I’m 80,  I’m been amazed at the “fallout”.  Thanks to him – and you, — the things I’ve learned, the connections made or renewed, my awakened perspectives, my awe of you who take time to read and contribute to it  – are by-products I never expected and wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

Reaction to yesterday’s post is a perfect example of one of the pleasant shocks I’ve received from “blobbing”.

If you read the post called 109. When Santa Doesn’t Come, you must have patiently suffered through my rendering of something that’s haunted me for the past 33 years.  I thought about it a long time before I decided to use it as the dreary subject a Christmas Eve’s blob.  I figured people would be too busy to read it, anyway, what with all the holiday prep going on.  Writing is a good way to get something out of your system, especially if it involves guilt and regret for something that happened a long time ago.

When my sister Joan was caring for our parents during the last months of their lives, she was doing it without the help of me or our brothers Leo and Richard. To this day, I agonize over why I wasn’t there.  Time has a funny way of getting our priorities right, but too late.  Whatever monumental responsibilities I thought I had at the time were certainly dwarfed afterwards by the dead-sure feeling that I had made a terrible error in letting my sister and her family shoulder the burden alone.

All these years, in my mind’s eye, I’ve pictured their household during 1976 and 1977: how hard my sister must have worked, how much my brother-in-law Tommy gave up, and especially, how hard it must have been on the kids, four of whom still lived at home – Jeff, Rene’, Denise and Dennis.  And I always had the nagging certitude that I should have been there, or that my parents should have been here.

So try to image my confusion this morning when I opened an email from Joan.  She wrote, “You poured it on too thick.  It didn’t seem that bad at all.  I wish you could retract some of it.”

At first, I thought she was referring to another blob, but when I read the comment she posted, I knew she wasn’t.  On the comment, she wrote, “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.”

I figured that she was either in denial, or that time must have dimmed the memory of all they’d been through.  But then, I read the comments posted by nieces Rene’ and Denise.  In case you missed them, here they are below.

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RENE’ WROTE: I remember Dad carrying Grandma downstairs for a change of scenery very frequently. I remember Grandma receiving a compliment , ” You’re 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 realize how hard that would have been. I remember the day that Grandma relayed a message that she received 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 charades with me. He had lost his speech 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 baby-food salted. This was a big NO-NO for some medical reasons. At that point, after watching Grandma die, I didn’t think it much mattered anymore. I loved spending time with him.

After a huge blizzard that we had, smaller to the ones mentioned in an earlier blog, the snow was irresistible. The three youngest of us broke one of the most goldenest of golden rules. We TOUCHED the living room curtains. We opened them all the way. ( I’m crossing myself now just in case). Then we all bundled up and went out for a great snow ball fight right in front of Grandpa’s bed. It was the first big screen live TV reality show 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 diversion 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.

AND THIS IS WHAT DENISE WROTE:  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 about their death, and even what day of the week it was, and I can tell you. Even what clothes the mortician 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.

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In spite of the tears of relief I’ve shed over Rene’s and Denise’s contributions, I’m pretty sure they are flat-out the biggest Christmas gift I’ve ever received.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but these words were written by “dream children”. And kids with this kind of depth and maturity are the product of good parenting skills.

I’m lucky to be related to them, and my parents were the luckiest of all.

Merry Christmas.


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One Response to 110. Christmas Surprise

  1. Gretchen Covey says:

    Dear family,

    You have gotten me all teared up. Mom, what a beautiful testimonial of the death of your parents who died in such loving, holy circumstances. Thank you Aunt Joan, Uncle Tommy, Chris, Tim, Jeff, Rene’, Denise and Dennis for taking such good care of Grama and Grampa. It sounds to me that you have experienced the true love of Christ and Christmas. Comfort and Joy!

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