Hmm, when last I wrote you it was July? Well, personal blogs are notorious for gaps in their writer’s attention and its been busy. Most significantly, my mother found her way out of a seven or eight year journey through dementia and into the resurrection in the first week of September.
I flew back to sit by her bedside for a week or so at the end of August. I returned to the US for most of November which involved stops in New York City to see family, a whirlwind tour through Sonoma County, California, and then a return to Portland Oregon and finally organizing my mother’s service. I use first person in that sentence but her service was organized by my brother and her home congregation as well.
In the meantime, we spent a reflective September weekend at Lake Como in Italy and a family focused October weekend in Barcelona visiting Beloved’s younger son enrolled in a local term. My December plans are to stay close to home except that I’m considering a quick solo get away to Vienna at the end of this week. Beloved is off on a father-son bonding trip to Verona Italy and I am thinking four hour train rides are sometimes a great place for writing and dreaming.
While all of this was going on, we received news that Beloved’s California employer is being closed down. He no longer has a job to go home to. We had already decided to extend our contract here so we’re okay until at least 2017 but after that – who knows? We return to another city and employer in the US or we stay on local contract or we move to another location in Europe or… The wild adventure just gets more wild.
We have a Christmas tree this year. The first Christmas here, we were just happy to have an apartment. The second Christmas, we decided to go visit Venice when pretty much no one else visits. It was magic. This year, coming home from November, I knew I needed to just be still for a while. It was time to catch up with myself and to absorb the finality of my mother’s passing.
Dementia nibbles away at our connections. Mom started leaving a while ago, not of her choice mind you. Still, for years, I walked around with a pin in my mental map marking “this is where Mom is – at least physically.” Now that pin is gone. I used to make 30 second “Hi Mom” videos on my cell phone everywhere I went. I made my last one in June. Now you are who is left to read these electronic post cards.
We have a Christmas tree this year, but not the family tree decorations. We left them in storage. Only three years, why risk their travel?
I turned of age when Christmas tree decorations became individual rather than boxed sets. Buy one or two every year in memory of something or some place or some stage in the family life, was the mantra of the time. So I bought lots and received lots as gifts. I thought I’d grow old with the collection. That I’d be sitting with an intact family and handing out these symbols of a happy life together to my now grown daughters and grand babies.
Didn’t work out that way.
I started skipping Christmas trees in seminary. I was going back to Portland for the holiday anyway. And it was, well, easier, to leave all those memories in the box. Later, when Beloved and I joined households, I think he was a bit overwhelmed with the intensity of my collection. He didn’t know the memories and he is blessed with an ability to not overly attach to objects anyway. His family tradition was to run off and camp on a Florida Gulf Beach. Play cards, open presents when they got back to town. Cook up some fish in the meantime. My extended family tradition on my father’s side was to try and model a Norman Rockwell painting as much as too much scotch could allow and then, later, just be massively depressed till the holidays were over.
But now we have a German tree in need of Christmas decorations. I thought, maybe it would be easier to start over with neutral objects, basic ornaments* in a box.
I think I was right.
It is easier. I can just see a tree and its pretty baubles. But I still see the ghosts of Christmas ornaments in storage.
I think next year’s trip we’re going to have to crack into that storage unit. I think we need to reduce the amount in storage because we know better what we need or don’t need. I think I want to get some stuff back out of storage and into my life. But that’s going to be a huge project. So big that maybe we should wait for 2017 and then decide, Christmas tree ornaments not withstanding. I miss the old ornaments. I miss my mother.
She was visiting us for Christmas in California when I first noticed that something wasn’t right with her. I asked her to peel some carrots and handed her a peeler. She had, of course, first taught me to do this way back in the day but that night she handed back not so much peeled carrots as deeply gorged and pot marked carrots. She forget she couldn’t digest milk and asked for milk in her coffee. Then she complained about needing to go to the bathroom all the time and how she was just exhausted. A few months later she called me complaining about some bank calling her all the time asking for money. Mom kept the books in our family. That was how it began.
A friend recently wished me a chance in my season of grief to be open to the magic of Christmas. He thought might be even more magical in Germany. Its not, but it is nice to be out of the marketing hammer of the hap-hap-happiest time of the year. There’s room here, at least for us, to be quiet, or sad, or peaceful, or engaged with the world. Its still a big marketing extravaganza here, but there is also community celebration in all the Christmas Markets and glühwein.
Even so, there are memories that call me back into the magic. Like listening to recordings of anthems we used to sing in seminary, especially during the Lessons and Carols service. Beloved and I were recently sitting by the fire, scraping our raclette** and talking about our lives when Mary Chapin Carpenter’s version of Candlelight Carol came on. After a verse or so, I started to sing along and I started to remember where I’ve been and who was with me then and who is with me now. And I relaxed – just a little bit.There’s still magic in this season of traditions and beginning again.
A book I read about reclaiming Christmas way back in the day urged the reader to be deliberate in how we set up our family holidays. We need to be deliberate because these traditions are going to be what pulls us back from the edge of lost. These traditions will help us find our way back home again. New homes, yes, but still Home.
Candlelight, angel light, firelight and starglow shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis deo! Angels are singing; the Christ Child is born.
*the German word for Christmas tree decorations (Christbaumschmuck) translate as Christ-tree-jewels. I kind of love that.