FROSTY WINDS MAY BLOW...
This time of year always makes me think of my mom. She loved Christmas and everything that went with it, especially our traditions. We never decorated our tree until Christmas Eve (and did it with great fanfare and creative abandon..) And even when my brother and I were all grown up, we never failed to listen to Loretta Young telling the story of “The Littlest Angel.” Then, on Christmas morning each of us opened up one present at a time and shouted, “Opening!” as we ripped off the paper.
When Jim and I were married and our daughters, Kate and Abigail, were born, we carried on my family’s holiday traditions - and created some of our own. One is particularly precious to me. There’s a wonderful church around the corner from our apartment that has a children’s Christmas pageant every year. Children of all ages - from 3 to thirteen - participate. Tiny, exuberant angels (Kate and Abigail were among them when they were little) run down the aisle flapping their arms, then small, fur-wrapped shepherds carry noisy, live lambs, followed by wise men (looking very serious) carrying lanterns, and as a finale, Mary arrives on a donkey, led by Joseph. All the while, the most wonderful Christmas music is sung by everyone in the standing-room-only church. My favorite is “In the Bleak Mid-Winter...frosty winds may blow..." Of course, my parents always came to NYC to join us. Not to be together on Christmas Eve would’ve been unthinkable.
But one Christmas Eve sticks stubbornly in my mind...one that reminds me that in addition to the cooking, shopping, wrapping, “opening” and singing there might be another important tradition to start: taking care of each other. Here’s why: This particular Christmas Eve was especially cold, “frosty winds” were definitely blowing and as our whole family walked to the corner of 88th Street and turned onto Fifth Avenue to head to the church, an icy blast hit my mom like a freight train. She clutched her chest and couldn’t take another step. “I’m sorry,” she kept saying, “I really am...I should’ve taken my pills..” I was thunderstruck. Why hadn’t I realized how hard it would be for her to walk against the wind? Why hadn’t we gotten the car out and driven her? What was I thinking? My mom had emphysema and shortness of breath was an ever-present challenge. But an icy blast made it almost unbearable. I shielded her from the wind as we walked back to our apartment and after she rested we drove her to church in a warm car. The pageant was as beautiful and moving as ever. But I never made that mistake again. I just wish I hadn’t made it in the first place..
So here’s my message: If somebody you love has a serious or chronic illness, take extra good care of them during the holidays. Be vigilant. Try to imagine how even one flight of stairs, one minute too long standing in line, or one blast from a “frosty wind” can completely knock them out. Make sure they’re bundled up warmly, that they rest periodically, that they take their meds no matter what - and that they know that you know...how hard it can be. And that it’s okay. The angels, shepherds, wise men and donkeys will still play their parts. You play yours: Take good care of them. And while you’re at it, take care of yourself, okay? (Watch out for those frosty winds...)
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