When I was very young, I remember going to my grandmother's house for Christmas. She had two brothers and two sisters, and my great-grandparents were still alive. We would have a small family gathering on Christmas Eve and then spend Christmas Day all together.
After my great-grandparents passed away, and my grandparents got older, my mother had a more difficult time packing everything up and traveling four hours to their house for the holidays. She started doing Christmas at our house. Sometimes my grandparents and uncle's family could come. Sometimes they couldn't. I often found my mother putting up Christmas decorations while listening to holiday music and crying. Being a huge Christmas fan, I never understood why she was so upset. I asked her once and she said that she missed the way Christmas used to be when she was younger . She missed her family. "Christmas is for children. When you get older, you'll see."
In the spring of 2004, my mother was diagnosed with pancreas cancer. They expected her to die within months, but she was a fighter. I scoured the internet looking for anything that would help, and her oncologist was an angel with an open mind. In the summer of 2005, the cancer had spread to her liver and we were able to get into Stanford for a new localized radiation treatment called "cyberknife." She underwent two treatments that completely eliminated the spots they targeted on her liver, but it was spreading faster than they could treat it. Her cancer was winning. It was unlikely she would make it to Christmas.
By early December 2005, she was weak, but she insisted on going Christmas shopping for the grandkids while she could still get out. In just a few short weeks, she was barely able to get off the couch. I would go over there every day to wrap the Christmas packages she had carefully chosen. She wanted to make sure the grandkids were taken care of. She sat on the couch and gave me orders (one of her favorite past times), and I laughed and wrapped packages like I didn't have a care in the world until I could get home and fall apart. When the last gift was wrapped, I knew her business was finished. She had been holding on until I was done. I sat next to her and we talked for a long time. We knew her time was coming to an end. I told her how much I loved her and she told me she loved me too and to take good care of her grandkids.
At a little after 5:00am Christmas Eve morning 2005, I got a call from the hospital that my mother was gone. We were devastated. We went through Christmas in a fog that year. My brother and sister-in-law helped with the food and we kept it together for the kids' sake.
Now what? What about Christmas next year, and the year after that? Where would we go? What would we do? Everything had changed. I remembered what my mother had said about the holidays when I was younger. I could let Christmas be forever tainted by my mother's death, or I could count my blessings and look at all of the amazing family and friends in my life. I knew that I didn't want my children to find me listening to holiday music and crying. I wanted them to love Christmas as I do.
So while I respect the ghost of Christmas past and will always remember the good times, I choose to embrace the ghost of Christmas present - to always be thankful for what I have today. I can't change yesterday and tomorrow is yet to be. I know my mother would approve.
This season, I wish for you, all the magic, wonder, hope and joy that is Christmas. Happy holidays my friends :)