Last Saturday night, my house was discombobulated. Strands of colored Christmas lights covered the floors, snow man figurines were lined up on the coffee table and garland was draped over the loveseat, nearly tripping each person passing by trying to get to the bathroom. In the middle of it all, my mother sat Indian-style carefully surveying the situation. Like a commander in chief, she was trying to figure out the best way to decorate, making sure each smiling snow creature could be scene and every light was appreciated. “What are you doing” she squeaked when I tried to pick up the garland to begin hanging it. I soon learned the best way to help was to sit on the floor, assisting to hold and pin things when she was ready. Instead of being annoying of her Christmas decoration takeover kick, I found myself smiling watching her get into the spirit. It reminded me that almost 11 years ago to the date, we almost lost the opportunity to ever decorate together.
In the middle of the night 11 years ago, my mother woke up with indigestion and nausea. I watched all night as she popped Zantac and chalked it up to the plate of lasagna she had for dinner. But even though I was only 12, I knew that this was more serious. She was forcing herself to smile, Dad was talking about going to the hospital, and I had a feeling there would be no school for that day. After making the decision to take her to the hospital, we found out that it was a miracle she was alive. She had suffered from two major heart attacks, and needed an emergency quadruple bypass the next day in order to survive. That night as my dad made phone calls to friends and family members, I stared at the television as it played cartoon Christmas specials. My pre-teen brain couldn’t grasp the fact that my mom was not home, yelling at me to do my homework or to clean up. Besides, we were supposed to decorate for Christmas next weekend, and watch Winnie the Pooh Christmas together. And she promised she would, just the other night. But that was the other night, and starting that day it would mark my life into two chapters-before mom got sick and after mom got sick.
Going into an intensive care unit is never a fun experience — no matter how nice the nursing staff is or how bright lights are in the corridor. The fact that you are siting in a wooden chair in a see-through room is a blatant reminder that nothing is normal about the situation. Paper snowman and cardboard cut outs of silver bells decorated the unit, as if they were trying to distract visitors of the beeping of the machines. Instead of decorating our Christmas tree that week, we spent hours in the hospital watching my mom go through major heart surgery, fight for her life connected to tubes, and then reconcile with the fact that her life would never be the same.
A few days before Christmas, mom was able to come home to recuperate. We spent the days before Christmas making sure her chest wires were in place, her wounds were properly bandaged and that she was still breathing at night. Suddenly, the decorations or my Christmas list filled with items from Limited Too seemed not as important. My dad explained to me that it would be a quiet Christmas, and that I would pick out of most of my gifts that year. That Christmas morning, I knew every gift that was wrapped because I helped him wrap it a few days prior. Instead of having our holiday dinner with the rest of our family, the three of us spent it at home, with a pop in visit from the house-bound nurse, trying to count our blessings after the roller coaster ride of emotions we were still experiencing. Looking back a decade later, it was the most meaningful Christmas my parents and I ever experienced. We spent the holiday being thankful that we had each other, and were able to be at home together. While other patients that were on the ICU unit with my mom were still in hospital beds on Christmas day, we were lucky enough to be able to be at home-despite being battered physically and emotionally.
In the 11 years that have passed, my family and I have had our share of holiday blowouts and fights. We’ve endured more hardships and have had our share of holiday blunders since that holiday season. But each holiday season when I begin getting overwhelmed with holiday shopping, decorating and spending, I remember the year that nothing else mattered but bringing mom home. And although I would never wish that experience on anyone, in a twisted way I am grateful for the lesson it taught me at such a young age, and the gift of the true meaning of Christmas it gave me to last my entire lifetime. As long as your family is home for Christmas, together, nothing else really matters.