Friday, December 10, 2010

Shadow and Light

I'm taking a short break from the 20 Questions gig. There's something I need to get out, that's why. Sometimes the only way to get rid of the shadows is to turn off all the lights.

Christmas four years ago was the saddest Christmas in my history. It was as bleak and void of cheer as the salty crust at the edge of a wintry road. It's an understatement to say that it was a really shitty Christmas.

John was well into his illness, having gone through two useless chemo treatments. He had a horrible mysterious raging reaction to something - possibly the chemo, possibly the cancer, possibly the rotation of the planets, no one could say - and spent the two weeks before Christmas in the hospital. My days were filled with getting through my job so I could slog through traffic and sit at the hospital with him.

At any hospital, all things meant to exude holiday spirit are a garish juxtaposition to the mind numbing oppression of the building, it's use(s), and the occupants. There is no peace in a hospital, no joy (unless perhaps one has just given birth to the perfect baby). Sparkly paper snowflakes in a disinfectant scented hospital hallway are just all wrong in so many ways. The fake Christmas tree in the waiting room is a mockery, a tease, a banner saying, "Your Christmas is so screwed!"

John fought hard. He wanted to be home for Christmas. After much discussion, wheedling, begging, crying, and cajoling, it was finally agreed that I could take him home on Christmas Eve, but only upon the promise that we would come back Christmas Day so that he could have a transfusion and IV meds. We assured compliance.

We arrived home to a dark house that hadn't been cleaned in more than a month. There were no decorations up. There were no presents. It felt like a shell, like a cave we were hiding in from some monstrous storm. We ate scrambled eggs for dinner that night, about all John could manage to keep down. We watched something mindless and mundane on TV. We held hands, ignoring the tremendous, threatening cloud that hovered between us, both knowing but not acknowledging, that this would be our last Christmas together.

Christmas morning we woke with passive smiles for each other. We called our families and let our voices carry cheer that we didn't feel. We dressed and we went back to the hospital again for a seven hour gamut of stuff oozing from tubes into John's veins. Hospital staff wished us a Merry Christmas. As I wandered the halls, other hollow-eyed families, mimicking the numbness I felt, gave half-hearted smiles and good wishes. The coffee was terrible, the food was worse.

Through all of this, the only thing on my mind was, "This is our last Christmas together. It's not supposed to be like this." Every time someone wished me a Merry Christmas I either wanted to break down and cry, or lash out and scream, "Fuck you and your goddamned good tidings!" My spirit was at an all time low.

The hospital staff seemed to understand people going through these things. Nurses hugged me. Oncology folks gave me knowing nods. It didn't help, but it helped... a little.

It was a lousy Christmas. There was no way around it but to go through it. The only way to ignore the shadows was to turn off the lights and stumble through the dark.

That's it. That's all there is to this story.

Except... except...

My good friend Vandy has recently logged long hours visiting the hospital ICU area where her daughter lay recovering (thankfully!) from a serious injury. She came up with a wonderful idea that she posted as her facebook status this morning. How about this holiday, any day really, you take some good homemade food down to the hospital and share it with people in the ICU waiting rooms, or the oncology ward waiting rooms. These are two places in a hospital where the harshness of reality is a painfully sharp outlined focus. Why not give these people something, even something as minor as a homemade cookie, to cling to.

As one who's been there, it would have made things at least a tiny bit easier if there had been some decent food to eat... if I had felt there was some stranger out there who cared about us being lost in the storm.

At some point, we all have to face the shadows. At some point the shadows are too much and we turn off the lights. You don't have to know someone to hold their hand. You don't have to know their story to be a beacon.

... and isn't that what this holiday is all about? Bringing light.

Don't just say it. Do it.


  1. Brings back memories for me of a holiday spent in the hospital watching life drain out of my Da. Not sure that the holiday has ever been the same since. Thanks for sharing this Barb

  2. My Dad got ill at Christmas & died 2 months later, it's never been the same for me either. Thanks Barb, keeping you in my thoughts.

  3. This post reminded me of just how much I appreciated some of the hospice people that really helped me and my family out with my father several years ago. I was pregnant with my 2nd son, and the care-giver for my father who was living with us in our home. His last 6 months were so hard on him, and all of us. That Christmas, was at least spent at my home - but, it wasn't easy. I don't know if I could have made it without the help from the Hospic staff and volunteers.

    After that, I always thought that some day, I would volunteer with Hospice care... be there for someone like they were there for me and my father. Your post got me thinking about how many things I keep wanting to help with... but feel like I never have time, money, energy to do.

    Time to find some time, I think...



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