Friday, December 25, 2009
Christmas Eve's Magic
Christmas Eve started out so well for my father. I had bought him a new cashmere sweater, I had found a new plaid shirt in his closet at the house, and I gave him a brand new pair of trousers. He looked so handsome, not at all like a man who is dying of about five different diseases.
We had breakfast together with a special caregiver I've hired for him and he was chipper and ate well. But at about 11:00 a.m., she called to say he had thrown up. An indication, perhaps, that his pancreatic cancer is beginning to impact his stomach. Not to mention the impact it had on his new cashmere sweater and shirt.
When the family arrived to be with him for Christmas Eve dinner, he was angry and paranoid and the nursing assistant was panicked about what to do to get him out of bed and into his wheelchair. He wouldn't budge and looked like he might be violent.
It occurred to me, that in losing his breakfast, he had also lost his anti-psychotic medicine. So I asked the nurse to give him his emergency pill and gradually, he calmed down and allowed us to take him in to dinner.
The medicine is strong and he gradually grew quiet as we fed him. It was Christmas Eve and we all felt a little down because Dad still can't understand why our mother isn't there, though he often forgets to ask about it--a blessing of his dementia.
And then, as he finished up his dessert, my sister suggested we sing a little--something Dad liked to do during the last year he was at home. Songs are stored in some special area of a person's brain. Dementia patients often remember them when they've forgotten everything else. So I wrote the words "Silent Night" on his pad, and he looked at it and quietly began to sing. We joined in. Five voices in our own choir.
The dining room grew quiet around us as we finished "Silent Night" and launched into "O Little Town of Bethlehem." These old carols are fixed in Dad's fading memory, like signposts from his childhood. They are fixed in all our memories and bring to mind darkened chapels, burning candles, sparkling trees, and families going home together on this special night.
My sister's eyes teared up as we sang, remembering perhaps, all the many Christmases we've spent as a family, the many we've spent not as a family, and the many Christmas Eve's we've marked.
We finished up and began to wheel Dad in his chair out into the hall. An older man stood and spoke to us. "That was so lovely," he said. "It sounded like carolers had come to visit us. I always love to hear those songs."
For our family, still in mourning this Christmas, it was like a twinkling star in the East on Christmas Eve. Our father's baritone, softly singing these ancient hymns of hope, was the highlight of our evening--reminding us amidst the darkness of that night, that morning would come and we would, one day, be joyful, restored, and united again for the very first time.
God bless us every one and Merry Christmas.