Monday, December 26, 2005

The long Christmas march



At six years old, I spent my first-ever night away from home. Persuaded by a cousin during a Christmas gathering, I was sure it was a great idea. Sure, that is, until seeing my mom's car pull out of the driveway, headed in the opposite direction.

Then I started crying, becoming so distraught I threw-up before my aunt's car even made it to the corner.

At six, the distance across two counties and four cities is enormous, both physically and psychologically. I couldn't stand to see her leaving me. Thought we'd be apart forever.

This Christmas, everything that could go wrong really did - starting with three hours sleep and greeted at my mom's by a still frozen-solid turkey. I left it sitting in her sink and went to search for a worthy poultry replacement. Finding nothing open, we ran back to the house, determined to thaw by microwave.

Unexpected company arrived at their house. I spent three hours searching for, and manually installing, drivers for my daughter's new Zen Xtra mp3 player. Dinner got pushed forward. And forward again. And then, once more.

I forgot like five items needed to prepare dinner. Drove from her house to mine over and over again. In the car, alone, I was at or near tears more than once. Usually things that don't matter - and big family dinners are definitely amongst them - don't bug me.

Lousy potatoes? Oh, well. Eat something else. Turkey's dry? Here, have some gravy. No pie? No biggie.

By the end of the night, under cover of darkness driving home, I was struck by other things, things that really did matter: as the day wore on, it became clearer just how little my mother is now able to function.

Sometimes she said she gets "stuck" and can't move forward at all. Alternatively, she hobbles in a way that makes Chaplin appear graceful. It's so scary, so sad, so painful for her -- and painful to see this once physically strong woman deteriorate. Same with my dad.

I'm not ready to lose them. Never will be ready. Think this is the hardest part of my life thus far, of anyone's life, watching the long downhill march of old age as it cripples and kills the people you've always loved. It's merciless. It's relentless. It's brutal. And it's daily.

I'm six all over again, watching her drive off in the opposite direction, unable to follow where she is going, certain we won't see each other again. Only this time, it's for real.
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