Christmas Memories

I found myself wandering the toy aisles while Christmas shopping last week. I was searching for something called a Tangle Jr. It’s a colorful little twisty plastic chain, perfect for someone who is fidgety and can’t keep their hands still. I finally found them and tossed two into my cart.

I sighed and felt this strange emptiness inside as I watched the other shoppers filling their carts. Unlike the young parents around me, I was there on a very unique mission. I wasn’t Christmas shopping for a child . . . I was shopping for my mother.

Mom and me, Christmas 2017

My brother and I have reached an odd stage in life which many grown children will eventually face. Our mom, now in a nursing home, is slowly losing her memory. She loves having visitors though, and still recognizes my brother. He is an absolute angel! He is retired and is able to visit her at least three days a week, something I am unable to do. He also picks her up and brings her to us for occasional weekend family dinners and holiday gatherings. We will be blessed to have her with us on Christmas Day.

Memories become even more precious when your loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. We never know if our next holiday will be our last one with Mom, so we aim to make lots of memories in the moment. These are the days when we treasure her presence, even if she won’t recall the visit after the long drive back to the nursing home.

I remember a Christmas morning about three years ago. Mom was experiencing moderate memory lapses, but still recognized all of us and was able to spend the night. We shared a wonderful Christmas Eve together at church and then at home, and I wanted to make the morning special too.

I awoke before the rest of the family and turned on all the Christmas lights and the gas fireplace. I put on some festive music and heated up some breakfast pastries. Every now and then I tiptoed upstairs and peeked into the guest room. I wanted Mom to see me before she panicked in an unfamiliar place. When she woke up, I helped her into her robe and slippers and led her downstairs. Her childlike delight and reaction when seeing the beautiful Christmas tree and all the presents has filled my heart to this day.

Mom and I sat together while the rest of the family slept in. We enjoyed our coffee and cinnamon rolls in the family room, and watched The Little Drummer Boy on our old VHS player. I was hoping Mom would love that cartoon, and she did. I am sure she watched it a dozen times with me when I was a kid, but that morning it was brand new for her.

Throughout those quiet hours together, she would suddenly look around the room and marvel at the pretty lights and decorations as though noticing them for the first time. She kept saying, “This is so beautiful!” and asking, “Who did all this?” Her reaction alone was memorable for me — so innocent and full of wonder — just like the Christmas mornings I remember growing up.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:15-19 

Perhaps those memories provide a little glimpse of what heaven will be like for us, with every moment bright, and shining, and full of wonder and amazement. How awesome it will be! 

May your Christmas morning be just like the first Christmas — full of joy, wonder, and precious memories to last a lifetime and beyond.

When Memory Fails

In the quiet times of day, and often in the middle of the night, I remember my dad. He has been gone for more than 30 years, but I still have conversations with him. I tell him about his grandchildren and share how much I miss him. I imagine what he is doing in heaven (painting or tending a garden, no doubt) and I trust with all my heart that I will see him again one day.

The memories of my father are even more important to me now, especially since my brother and I are the only ones who can recall them. Our mom suffers from dementia and she lost all recollection of our dad, “Freddie” as she called him, a few years ago. I remember so vividly how it felt like a stab to the heart when I was showing her my wedding album one

afternoon and she pointed to my dad and asked, “Who is this?” It seemed like all the air was sucked out of the room. When I recovered, I took the time to share all my memories of that special day, always searching her face for a glimmer of recognition. But there was none.

 

Trying to keep a memory alive when there is no capacity to store them is a painful thing. Sometimes I find myself reaching deep inside my mind to retrieve certain memories,  and the fear of losing those precious moments gives me an overwhelming urgency to share them.  A windy day at the beach. A camping trip in New Hampshire. A favorite board game. A family vacation. We talk about these memories whenever we are all together and we share the stories and pictures and random details that come to mind. For my brother and I, we understand that it may mean nothing to our mother, but for us, it is a crucial bridge in keeping Dad’s legacy alive.

And so, on this and every Father’s Day, Daddy.  you are forever in our memories and buried deep in our hearts.