Indeed it was a different Christmas, as it turned out that my father’s decision to stay at Bickford and not visit our house on Christmas was made moot. Christmas Eve morning I got a call from my sister that Dad had a stomach flu and needed a bendy straw; could I get some and bring them to Dad? It so happens that I still have some bendy straws from my children’s much younger days, so I brought two to him. He was in bed, and did appreciate the straws which made drinking his Gatorade much easier. I didn’t touch him or come near him; I had 17 people at my house, and the thought of a stomach bug infecting the family made my blood run cold. I used a lot of antibacterial gel and hoped for health. So far we’ve escaped.[Update: I came down with the bug Tuesday night, as did my youngest son and my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter. Oh well.]
Christmas morning my sister called to say that Mom was sick, too. I called in the afternoon, and spoke to a staff member who said, no, Mom was NOT sick. Dilemma. Do I go and get Mom and hope she wouldn’t bring the bug home? After all, she had said she wanted to come over on Christmas day. With regret and relief, I decided we could not risk bringing the bug into our house. Regret because I do like to please her, relief because it made the day so much simpler. Thus the twining of emotions in opposition that pull me between my needs and my parents’. I did feel badly about not bringing her here, but as I surveyed the 17 people gathered in my living room, the heaps of presents before each person, and noted the volume of voices, I was sure this was not the place for Mom. Good thing, too. After two and a half hours we still weren’t done opening presents, and I had to make some food preparation for the dinner yet to come. I’d see my parents tomorrow, right?
Well, no. Family members decided to ski, and the closest decent place was an hour and a half away. The need for a grandma for the tiniest member of the group made me decide to join the skiers. It meant I would not see my parents for the second day in a row. I called my sister to let her know, feeling the usual guilt–her family was Christmas-ing that day–but bless her, she sent me on my way, assuring me that between her and Bickford all would be well. It was.
Yesterday, my youngest son–age 29–and I went out to see Dad, who was feeling much better. He was in the living room, but he wanted to go to his room. We gathered close, the better for him to hear us, and found that he was not hearing ANYTHING. I moved my son in front of Dad so he could see my son’s mouth and do some lip-reading. It was no better. Finally I began to write things down, but even so, he could not focus on the topics my son brought up. Instead he pointed out birds on the feeder, a picture of my niece and family, BUT! when a sports topic came up, he brightened and began to respond appropriately. Soon Dad seemed to hear and understand everything and a lively, heart-warming conversation ensued that Dad and my son were thoroughly enjoying. Toward the end of our visit I asked Dad to explain to my son how he solved the problems with Styrofoam, which were: “it stinks, it shrinks, and it burns,” which rendered it unmarketable. “How long have you got?” Dad asked, and went on to say that when he was asked to look at the problem, he noticed that it was the ends of the polystyrene chains that caused the problems. “And how could you get a chain with no end?” Dad asked my son. I tried to think of a way, and came up empty, but my son said, “A circle?” Dad beamed. “Yes! And that was how I ‘made my bones’ at Dow,” he said happily, clearly delighted that his grandson, who carries his name, had Gotten It. When we prepared to leave, he declared the hour-long visit “a joy.” It was for me, too, watching a beloved father and son connect so well, despite the 60 years that separate them.
We went down the hall to visit Mom, she sitting in her chair by the window. When she saw that someone had entered with me, she looked worried for she couldn’t see who it was. “Mom, it’s this guy,” I said, showing her a picture of my son we’d recently been looking at. As my son approached, she stood uncertainly, looking intently at him. When his face was about a foot from hers, she suddenly smiled and said, “Oh! Now you look like you!” and they hugged, Mom laughing with delight. Conversation with Mom is a big problem because the words she needs simply aren’t available to her much. We took a dog book with large photos out to the near-by lounge, and the three of us sat on a sofa and looked at and commented on the many types of dogs. With the dog book as a way to connect, we were able to relax and share some stories that she remembered when we jogged her memory–a particular pleasure to me. Joy did come for Christmas despite my worries–just two days late. Better late than never.