Tag Archives: holidays

Bittersweet holiday

As I’ve written before I’m sure, Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday. He loved turkey! My dad was not one to get too excited about food normally, so it was a big deal to watch him devour slice after slice of turkey.

While I can still recall those fond family memories, they are unfortunately overshadowed by that Thanksgiving three years ago. Dad was in the ICU, clinging to life. I was trying to figure out when I should fly out, because I was working the entire holiday weekend. The nurse said he could pass in two hours or two months, there was no telling. As soon as I arrived to work on Black Friday 2011, I received the call from a nurse, frantically asking me if they should pull the plug on my dad’s life support.

turkey

I’m now back working in the same newsroom I was that day when I received that terrible call. Every now and then I’ll glance to that corner of the room and remember the pacing I did that day three years ago, trying my best not to completely freak out from the stress. I’m once again working the holiday, but from home this time. Thankfully I won’t have to mark the anniversary of those painful memories at the office.

So Thanksgiving is bittersweet for me. I still enjoy the food and try to focus on the happy memories. Life, and death, does not pause for holidays.

I hope somehow, somewhere, Dad is enjoying a few big slices of turkey.

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A day for love of family & friends

Of course I am thinking of both of my parents today. As children grow into adults, sometimes holidays like Christmas seem more like a burden than a day to enjoy with your loved ones. Buying gifts, making travel arrangements, trying to get through visits without a spat, it’s enough to knock the jolly spirit out of anybody.

And admittedly there were many Christmases where I felt just like that. While I never actually spent a Christmas day with my parents after I turned 19, due to living so far away and school/work commitments, I would try to at least make an annual visit. I would usually choose somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can’t say I really enjoyed these visits. I do regret never having the chance to just take Dad aside and have some daughter-father bonding moments over a cup of coffee or beer. But then again, Dad was always a benign but forgettable figure in my life at that point. We weren’t close, we never had a deep bond.

Of course, having watched him battle Alzheimer’s for over four years, now I realize all of those years of lost opportunities. Dad never shut me out, but he wasn’t one to pursue a more active father-daughter relationship. I was relieved at the time that I only had Mom’s need for companionship to fulfill.

Holidays at their most basic are good excuses for families to bond together, to share stories and create their own unique traditions. While I can’t go back in time and change things in my own family, I can at least share my story and encourage others to embrace family bonding opportunities. What may seem like a mild inconvenience now may create memories that you will cherish forever.

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Home, sweet home

I finally made it back home. If I’ve learned anything over the past year or so, it’s not to take anything for granted.

I’ve always been a homebody, but after seeing Dad separated from his home in the last year of his life due to Alzheimer’s, I have a renewed sense of how important home and family and friends really are in this world.

We don’t know when disaster will strike and take us away from our creature comforts.

That lesson learned is better than any worldly possession that can be wrapped under a tree.

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Dad’s bachelor years and the holidays

I’m inching closer to home, and as I sit in a Starbucks writing this, watching people gathering and exchanging gifts and wishing each other “happy holidays” I feel that pang of homesickness strike even harder. That got me to thinking about all of those years when Dad was a single guy, after he immigrated to America. He could rarely afford to make trips home to Ireland. So what did he do for Christmas all of those years?

I don’t remember him ever talking about memories of Christmas spent as a bachelor. Dad was pretty good at making pals, so maybe one of them invited him over to their family’s house for a Christmas dinner. Certainly Dad was quite handsome back then, so maybe he had a girlfriend to go out on a date with on Christmas. Knowing Dad, I’m guessing a pub was involved at some point. Maybe other solitary types banded together for a night of merriment. Also, I’m sure Dad would have attended holiday mass.

ornament

Or perhaps Dad had to work, or offered to work, to let the family guys spend the holiday at home. That’s something that Dad would have done.

I’m sure the pangs of homesickness were quite strong, especially those first few years in the States. He worshipped his mother and it must have been difficult to be separated from her during the holiday season. Did he even get a chance to make a phone call home?

This is one of those moments where I wish I could call up Dad and ask him to solve this mystery I’ve just created. Instead, I am left to my own imagination of what Dad did all of those holidays before Mom and I came along.

The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is to ask your loved ones to tell stories about their past. Ask those burning questions now. You never know when it might be too late.

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One year later, trying to return home again

Mom’s surgery was a week ago and went amazingly well, according to the doctors. She was discharged early and has been home for a few days now. She’s doing well physically, but emotionally she is down. I am desperate once again to get home to my own family, thousands of miles away, who I’ve pretty much abandoned over the last six months.

So I’ve made plans to return home for Christmas. Just like I did last year, after my father’s death.

My plans didn’t work out so well last year. A freak snowstorm hit, and I was stranded in Roswell, NM alone for the holiday. Weather shouldn’t be an issue this time, but with the way this year has gone, I won’t believe it until I actually walk into my home.

Mom is understanding but obviously depressed, just like last year. If there was ever a time to clone myself, it would be now.

I found this post called Embracing the Caregiver Role quite accurate in the guilt and mixed emotions one has in caring for an ill parent and balancing family responsibilities.

The author writes, “To be there for my Mother I had to borrow from all of those areas at a cost.” This is so true, and I’m sure other caregivers can relate to this statement.

Also, this statement is telling: “Circumstance had converted our relationship.” This is so true as well, when adult children have to assume the parent role for their own parents. It is never an easy transition to make.

So I’m giving myself the gift of guilt this holiday season, just like last year. Of course, last year, I never would have predicted how much I would be sacrificing this year in order to take care of another ill parent. Perhaps karma paid me a visit? Hopefully by now, I’ve paid back any karma debts owed.

Hopefully, I will make it home.

Hopefully, Mom will be okay.

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Pretending to be normal

As I mentioned in my post on Christmas cards, no one wants to be Debbie Downer during the holiday season. I’m now facing back-to-back depressing holiday seasons. It is an added strain to smile and say “happy holidays” to well-meaning strangers right now.

I think Dad was always a bit melancholy because his mother passed away pretty close to the holidays and that loss haunted him for the rest of his life.

So I cannot just pretend that the sad events of the past year didn’t happen, but it does make you rethink your priorities during this season. It should be less about gifts and more about spending quality time with those you love.

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The fruitcake follies

Neither of my parents were able to see their relatives during the holidays. They all lived across the country or across the globe. So my mom started a family tradition by sending her relatives in Tennessee fruitcakes for Christmas.

Did her family really like the annual gift of the holiday dessert that has long been the butt of jokes? Well, one of her sisters said she froze it, so I’m not so sure. (I think it may still be sitting in her freezer!)

fruitcake

Well, after watching Mom order a slew of fruit cakes each year for her family, Dad decided he wanted to get into the fruitcake-ordering frenzy. Of course, things were a bit more complicated because Dad’s relatives were in Ireland and Australia. So there were some shipping snafus (and expenses) involved. I remember hearing nothing but fruitcake ordering drama for a week or so, until it all got straightened out. And Dad’s family never received another fruitcake! (I’m guessing they were secretly relieved!)

But I’m reminded of our family’s fruitcake story every time I see an ad for Collin Street Bakery.

It’s funny how something as trivial as an ad can bring back a memory so clearly.

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