Saturday, January 3, 2015
First Thanksgiving Alone
As my younger son and I were setting off for the family Thanksgiving dinner to which we had been invited, I received a text from a friend wishing me a good day. “I know it’s hard,” she said, and she does know – she lost her spouse about a year before Rick died. To be honest, I have been dreading the arrival of the holidays. I like the Christian spirituality of the coming of the light, and I have no problem with people who are non-Christian. It doesn’t bother me if people wish me happy holidays or anything else. I figure Christianity has enough of a PR problem without me being rude. I have had a problem for most of my adult life with the cultural and commercial demands and expectations of the holiday season. I’ve never felt like I could live up to the demands of a busy and expensive time of the year. I have other reasons for getting uptight around the holidays. You see, in my life some rather awful physical calamities have taken place at Christmas, starting with my father’s first serious heart attack on Christmas Eve, 1974. This was at a time when bypass surgery was beginning to be done, but not yet in our little town. My father was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then came home, where he picked up the pieces of his retired life. He got a jade heart on a gold chain for my mother’s birthday in February. This was a gift of uncharacteristic tenderness for him. He had his last heart attack in his sleep at four in the morning on the 13th of March, after spending the day before pruning my aunt and uncle’s fruit trees. Move ahead twenty-two years. In 1997 Rick went into the hospital in renal failure on Christmas Eve, after refusing to go to a doctor for weeks. He was stubborn that way. I spent that Christmas wondering if I was going to become the widow Tuel. Kidney failure can take you out more quickly than cancer, I learned. It turned out that Rick had prostate cancer, which had blocked off his kidneys. The docs removed the blockage, and Rick’s kidneys recovered their function, and then a few weeks later the docs removed his prostate, and told him, “You are now cancer free. Have a nice life.” Three years later in 2000 my mother had her first heart attack on the 22nd of December. Some neighbors checked on her the next morning, found her in rough shape, and called 911. Then they found my number and called me, and I got on an airplane and flew down to California. I spent that Christmas going back and forth between my mother’s house and the intensive care unit at Dominican Hospital, where she was in a drug-induced coma. She recovered a bit but not much, and died on the following March 31st at my brother’s house in New Mexico. Some of you are now thinking that December may be hard, but it’s March I should watch out for. I hear you. I’ve thought that myself. Last year when Rick and I were having one of the extremely honest discussions we had in those last months, I recounted all the things that had happened at Christmas and said to him, “Please don’t die at Christmas!” He didn’t. He died on the 29th of December. And now here comes Christmas again. I appreciated my friend texting good wishes to me for Thanksgiving, but it caused me to pause and remember that Rick hated Thanksgiving. He said his mother would always do the full Midwest Thanksgiving dinner, which required days of hard work in preparation. Each day she became a little more crazy and frantic. By the time the turkey was on the table, she was heck to be around. Once Rick had told me that, I tried to simplify and de-stress the meal and day as much as I could, but even so, he tended to hide out all day until the meal was served. He’d come and eat, and then disappear again. So I can honestly say I didn’t miss him that much at Thanksgiving. It is now the season of Advent in the church, a time of contemplation and expectancy. I am waiting – expectantly - for the first anniversary of Rick’s passing. It will be the last of the first times of without Rick. I miss him so much. I think of him every day, and whenever I find a penny, or any coin, I feel like he is saying hello to me. Sometimes he sends a quarter. I figure he knows I am always pinched for money. He was always kind and generous that way, the hard working rascal.