Blue Christmas

Today marks seven years since we lost my dear father-in-law and Patriarch of the Dove family, Charles Sr. Yesterday my best friend’s mother passed away. Although expected, she had battled dementia for several years, I know my friend will miss her Mom profoundly. My step niece commented on Facebook that had things gone according to plan her third daughter’s due date would have been today. Unfortunately, baby Harlyn passed away in July, sixteen weeks into the pregnancy. Having experienced two miscarriages myself, I understand her grief. As much as Christmas is such a joy-filled time of year, for many it is a time marked with sadness, regret, loneliness, grief, and stress.

Our Pastor’s sermon last Sunday was specifically about how Christmas can be one of the most stressful and depressing times for many people. It is a tough season for those with health or financial woes, or those who do not have family around them and are alone, or those who will spend their Christmas grieving over a loved one who has passed away this year. We sing “Joy to the World”, but do so with heavy hearts.

I remember the first Christmas without my Mom. I had flown home to be with my father when he came out of hospital after his open heart surgery. He had been my Mom’s primary care-giver for two years as she battled breast cancer. He had been so consumed looking after her, he had neglected his own health. When she passed, his body started to shut down, finally resulting in him requiring extensive surgery six months after Mom’s death. I came to help him for his first week’s recovery at home. I arrived three weeks before Christmas, and I could only stay a week as I had a young daughter and husband in Calgary who also needed me. I figured I could get Dad settled, and then rely on the good support system of friends and neighbours he had there in Victoria.

I arrived a day before he was to come out of the hospital so I walked into an empty house. It was eerily silent. Walking around my parent’s townhouse, I took note that nothing had changed since Mom’s death. Everything was exactly in its place. Dad had left furniture and nik naks where Mom had placed them. Her housecoat was still hanging behind the door in their bedroom. I half expected her to greet me and invite me to have a cup of coffee with her. My Dad had lived here in this place for months, alone, without his best friend, and I suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness for him. It was so strange and unnerving to spend the night in their house by myself. As the sun set, Christmas lights came on around the townhouse complex and I looked out the window taking in the Yuletide activity close by. My parent’s neighbours had their trees up in their front windows and I noticed festive wreaths on doors. Looking around my Dad’s house, I knew he wouldn’t have the strength or wherewithal to decorate this year. My mother had always loved Christmas. She always went way overboard in decorating the house to make Christmas so special for her family. My Dad had told me before his surgery that he wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas this year. “It won’t be the same without Mom here,” he said. “I will have a Blue Christmas I guess.” The lyrics from Elvis’ rendition of the song immediately coming to mind. As I sat there, alone in their home, I understood Dad completely. I felt such great loss. While all the neighbour’s Christmas lights twinkled around me, I sat in the darkness and cried.

I honestly do not know what changed in my heart overnight, but the next morning I woke up determined to bring the Christmas Spirit back into my Dad’s home. I was to pick my Dad up after lunch at the hospital so I spent the morning at KMart shopping and decorating Dad’s home. I picked up a little tabletop tree with brand new ornaments. I made a “Welcome Home” banner and tacked it in the hallway, and then went to pick up my Dad.

He was recovering nicely from his surgery and was pleased to see me. I wasn’t sure how he’d react to my Christmas surprise at home, so I was quite nervous when we came through the door and he saw first the banner and then the little tree I had put up in the living room. I was totally unprepared for my father’s tears. “You did this for me?” He could not take his eyes off of the tiny tree.

“Do you like it, Dad?”

He nodded. “It’s perfect!”

All the neighbours in the townhouse complex knew of Dad’s homecoming and came throughout the day for short visits and to bring Christmas baking and groceries for him and to reassure me that they would look after him when I went back to Calgary. Dad greeted each guest warmly with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” Then he would point to his tree and say, “Look at what my daughter surprised me with!” That evening, after dinner, he insisted on putting on a tape of Christmas music. We drank some eggnog, just the two of us, and reminisced about Mom, past Christmases, and then we started planning future Christmases together. It was one of the most wonderful days I ever spent with my Dad.

My Dad moved to Calgary after he was fully recovered, and he spent the next eight Christmases with us. He came to know Jesus as his Saviour and Lord, and spent quality time with each of his grandchildren before he went to his eternal rest in October 1999. I miss my Dad and my Mom and especially at Christmas I think so often of them. Of all my memories of them, none is more precious than that Christmas with my Dad that started out “blue” and ended up blessed.

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It’s the best way to describe my mood these last several days: unsettled, but in a good way! Basically, I’m still in recovery mode so I am still pacing myself, but I’ve got more energy than I know what to do with, all things considered. So, because I feel unsettled, I putter. It may not seem like much, but it’s more than I’ve done in months so it feels awesome just in the “doing”!

I made breakfast for my husband and I, the other day. It felt so good waiting on him for a change! He’s been so selfless looking after all my needs these many months. I take pleasure in finally being able to do a few things around the house for him. I did all the laundry, washed all the bedding, made the bed, and went up and down the stairs at least half a dozen times over the course of the morning. I really felt like I had accomplished a lot!

I got on my computer yesterday and started editing a manuscript I’ve been working on for years. It felt good to be in the writing mode again. I have set some writing goals for this upcoming New Year. It feels great setting goals of any kind, for writing or for anything else!

Today, I emptied the dishwasher. I tidied my kitchen. I did a little dusting. My husband caught me humming to myself as I puttered. He hasn’t heard me sing in months. I think it shocked him.

It may sound unimpressive, my doing all these seemingly mundane tasks, but when you consider that it was only a week ago, I barely had enough energy to get up and down the stairs once during a day, I’m pretty pleased with myself! In fact, I am thrilled! It seems that over the course of this week, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my overall strength, energy levels and emotional well-being.

Also, my hair is sprouting! Dark and soft to the touch, I can’t wait to run a brush through it! I guess it’s a little premature to think I can put my wigs away yet, but it’s amazing how much my mood has improved just seeing my hair come in. I’ve missed it!

During my devotional time with the Lord this morning, I thanked Him for this week of restoration.

“Lord, with all my heart I thank you. I will sing your praises before the armies of angels. I face your Temple as I worship, giving thanks to you for all your loving-kindness and your faithfulness, for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. When I pray, you answer me and encourage me by giving me the strength I need.” (Psalm 138:1-3 NLT)

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New Normal

I rang yet another bell on Tuesday signifying the end of my radiation treatments. My husband took me out for lunch for another congratulatory seafood meal, both of us thoroughly pleased my treatments were at long last done. My kids, friends and family sent their well wishes and I thought now we could all get back to normal.

But what is “normal”?

No sooner did I walk through the door after lunch than the nasty tummy side effects that had plagued me throughout the radiation treatments hit me once again and the oncologist’s warning that things might “get worse before they get better” rang true. I had been told that radiation “peaks” ten to fourteen days after the last treatment. It means I could expect the side effects to continue and even worsen during that time. The euphoria of being done treatments quickly dissipated.

I had promised my daughter, Carmen, to go with her and her future mother-in-law that evening to see the florist who would be doing the flowers for her July wedding. As much as I wanted to share in my daughter’s wedding excitement as the florist showed pictures of beautiful bridal bouquets, my heart just wasn’t in it. It was an endurance to stay focused and I felt guilty I just wasn’t prepared yet mentally or physically to help plan her wedding. When the topic came up of matching corsage colours with the dresses of the mothers of the bride and groom, I blanched at the idea of going in search of a dress for myself. How would I ever muster up the energy to do that? Although still over a half a year away, I wondered if I would ever be back to normal by the wedding day.

I had planned to update my blog on Wednesday, but to be honest I didn’t have the energy or the words to write. I wept before the Lord that morning. I prayed He would see each tear as an offering to Him, instead of my wallowing in self pity, but I’m sure He saw right through my attempts of giving Him feeble praise. Guilt pounded at me, as I tried to thank Him for getting me through treatments. I tried to be grateful in my heart, but I had little thanks to give as I felt my stomach cramp up and I sprinted towards the washroom yet again.

Later in the day, my daughter, Laurelle, texted me and I shared with her that I was having a tough day. “I thought it might be challenging,” she said. “It is a new type of normal again. You went through almost 8 months of just fighting and now that the fighting part is done, you have to pick up the pieces that were thrown around during the battle. Think of it this way, it took less than an hour to destroy the World Trade Centre (on Sept. 11, 2001), and years to pick up the pieces and rebuild. For you, it took months to battle the cancer and now it will take months to clean up the mess it left behind.”

She floored me with the reality and wisdom of her words.

Just like in 2001, I am now faced with a “what now?” scenario.  Life after cancer.  The Tom Baker Cancer Centre has a small book and even a course they provide to all of us who have completed treatments.  On the first page of the book it reads: “Finishing cancer treatment is a time of change…As you move forward, you may have questions about what is coming next, what you should do to take care of yourself or how to make your well being the best it can be.”  They also provide links to help you “live your best life with and beyond cancer“.  I have spent these last few days contemplating and praying for direction, asking the Lord some “what next?” questions.  Interestingly, He has answered through my friends and family.  It’s one-day-at-a-time answers for now.

My daughter, Carmen, learning I had a tough day following our appointment with the florist, tenderly reached out to me and encouraged me to “take time”.  I needed to hear that from her because I have felt so disconnected about all the wedding plans.  I want to jump in right away and get into full-scale planning mode with her, but I am so frustrated  that I just can’t until I’ve regained more of my strength.  “It’s more important that you look after yourself, Momma, and feel better!  We have lots of time!”

My husband, fighting a rotten cold this week, was keeping his distance so I wouldn’t get sick.  “I don’t want you to catch a cold AND deal with your side effects too!”  He said.  He validated my need to rest, recuperate, and not feel guilty about not springing back to “normalcy” right away.  “You’ve gone through a lot, Lynn.  Take your time, and don’t push yourself too hard.”

I was blessed to have five ladies from my Bible Study/Prayer group visit me on Thursday, and they brought lunch and then we had a wonderful study on DE-stressing Christmas.  It was just the visit and message I needed!  Again, God spoke to me through that gathering to emphasize the need to be “at peace”, and focus on Him, not on my circumstances, and not try to do too much over the Christmas Season.  That’s a tough one for me!  I tend to be a “Martha” during Christmas…well, at any time really, and I just can’t go into full-Martha mode this year.  In a way, it takes a lot of pressure off of me!

I have a “new normal”.  I have to accept the new changes.  For right now, it’s day to day progression.  I am moving forward, maybe more slowly than I’d like, but it’s still forward!  My son-in-law, Matt sent me this Scripture on Tuesday after I had rung the bell, reminding me again what is truly important!

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”


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