This was the most surreal and strangest Christmas I have ever experienced with my family. In parts, it was the most sad; at times is was truly joyful. At no other Christmas have I been so reminded of the love and light that buoys us all, though the path we travel may be at times so thick with fog and rain. We may not know why we are faced with those cold, dark, and seemingly unforgiving moments, but I do believe that when our actions are purely taken, and taken for the Good, then those gifts of the spirit forever ripple outward and lead to further good even if we never see it in our lifetimes.
I was reminded this Christmas how important it is to have family, to embrace family, to honor family. We know not any one of us is perfect---no one is---but the ranks of the family close together to struggle against the impossible. It was a blessing, also, to be reminded of the significance of tradition, of holding close the events of times and places as a way to honor those with whom we have shared those memories through the years.
Friends and readers, it has made my heart a little lighter these past few days to have your loving thoughts sent to me and my family. Thank you. As we sat in Hoag Hospital on Christmas Eve, I could feel your caring words lifting us up and helping to make the time even halfway endurable. One of the true Christmas gifts I received this year was feeling a connection to all of you, across space, sending goodness to us. No gift could be finer this Christmas, and the capacity for human empathy is one of our greatest gifts to give. May you always receive that empathy in return.
In the end, I watched a courageous man claim death with true dignity. By the time we got to the hospital, my Grandpa Yoder had taken a turn for the worse. He had been up and down all week, mostly making small improvements, but it was discovered on Christmas Eve that he had contracted pneumonia and that he soon would not be receiving enough oxygen from the oxygen mask. A decision had to be made about whether or not to put him on a ventilator. He faced that decision with strength and clarity: no, he did not want the ventilator, and yes, he knew he was going to die.
By accident, I saw that moment. I will always respect him for it, respect that he did not make his children decide. Uncle Tom had taken my brother David and I back to see Grandpa Yoder, and as we approached, we did not know that my mom and aunts and uncle were in the middle of asking for his wishes, or we would have waited further away out of respect. I will never forget the heartache and longing in my mom's voice at that moment...or many other poignant details of that moment that I think should remain among our family.
So, too, the moment my brother and I had together with our grandfather. I was reminded in that moment not only what it means to be a grand-daughter, but also a sister.
I said what I wanted to say to him: how grateful I have been for these past years, above all how thankful I am that he lived to see his great-grandchildren and to spend real time with them. I told him that Katie will always remember him, and I shared with him what she asked me to say. I had thought about bringing her in, but I decided that with his oxygen mask on it would be too scary for her. She asked later, unprompted, if he had known she was there wanting to see him. Oh yes, I said, he knew you came to be with him. I told him that I would tell Eric about him, that our memories of him would always continue. I thanked him for the family trips he took us on...and some other words. I kissed his hand many times, and I was struck at that moment with an intensity that rocked my core by how his hand had always been here but how I had never been able to bridge the formality between us to just grab it and kiss it before. We'd always kissed goodbye on the cheek. Why never the hand before? As Shakespeare wrote, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Why do we not see how short the time is that we have together before it is too late? Why do we not let go of assumptions about people when we still have the chance? What would have been the worst that could have happened in our lives if I had just covered him with all the years of kisses I'd always felt?
It was a long night. Eventually I needed to take our children home, and I did not see the actual moment of his passing. I have heard that it was beautiful, beautiful and sad, peaceful, a time of hope. He died at 10:30pm on Christmas Eve.
We always saw him on Christmas Eve, that was one of our special times. It was surreal that this was the last Christmas Eve I will spend with him. It is too soon to tell in my grieving process whether or not that fact will make it better or worse, or if it will just be... I miss him. I keep picturing him in his house, and catching myself with the knowledge that he isn't there...
After I had Katie, and after I went back to work, I was able to use my FMLA leave time to take one day off per week even after I was back in the classroom. Those last months of teaching, I usually spent that day traveling with my mom and baby Kate to visit Nana or Great-Grandpa Yoder, one of them each week. I wanted her to know them both.
That was one of the better decisions I have made as a mother.
Gather joy in the time you have left with those you love. Do not let the days go by...