Monday, December 16, 2013

Lovingkindness at Christmas -- and Always

“Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love. – A time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness; a time when our thoughts and deeds, and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God.”
-- George F. McDougall

Mike and I sent my mom a huge box of Omaha steaks, chicken, burgers, desserts, sides and such. She called me in tears thanking me -- saying it beats meals-on-wheels. It is with a heavy and sad heart that I listened as she went on about how much she appreciated the gift and hoped to enjoy it with family.

When we spoke last, she asked of what remains, what do I want when she passes. I looked at her and said I wanted nothing but the memories of the tremendous blessings she and my dad bestowed upon us (and not without help from the big guy). She took offense to my declining any of her worldly things. I suppose she is not in the same place spiritually as I, and I understand now to her that may have been an insult -- although I never intended it as such. I assure her that my brothers may want some of her things and what remains after, I will share with her grandchildren. Her grandchildren do not know her but perhaps a token might at least bring them closer, even if it's too late, in a sense. I looked at her and smiled a small forced smile, and I fought the tears, as I was reminded of how her life has unfolded.

This is a woman who once lived in a convent only to grow up and marry to live in what could be called, "a mansion" with my dad, three brothers and me, a swimming pool, a fishing pond, a dirt bike trail, an airstrip and a Quarter Horse ranch in the "backyard." She now lives alone in a tiny apartment in a gated complex with little eyesight and lots of memories. She sits amidst unpacked boxes as she has since she moved in years and years ago, shortly after my dad's death.

Growing up, each Christmas we would host a huge Christmas party for hundreds of people: all the staff at my dad's hospital and tons of friends from Plaquemine, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. As his health and career took him in different directions, we no longer hosted such festivities but we did still have at least twenty people over each Christmas for a sumptuous and seemingly never-ending spread of food, wine, champagne and after dinner drinks.

We always had two Christmas trees -- one in the formal living room which was beautifully flocked and decorated in a theme by Dupont's Florist (as was the entirety of the downstairs of our home) and the other which was in the den, always a fresh, green tree the kids would decorate with ornaments -- homemade and special in other ways -- ornaments with meaning.

Santa (who may or may not have been white) brought gifts for everyone including those who were not family but were unable to visit their family for the holiday. I played Santa's helper each year and no one went home empty handed -- we always had a gift for each guest. No one went home without a full belly -- there was so much food and drink. No one went home without a full head -- my dad was such a wise man and a grand storyteller. No one went home without a full heart -- we shared lots lovingkindness. My father was central to those days and these memories.

I know my mother misses him -- quite terribly. She claims to be strong but I know the holidays are hard for her. She finally admitted to getting lonely. I knew all along she was going to be lonely but felt helpless, as we departed for Hawaii four years ago, just as they took her car away (she had lost her sight). Through a series of unforeseen circumstances beyond her control, she has found herself "enjoying" Picadilly for Christmas and Thanksgiving for many recent years. I hope and pray that this year, she might delight in the overindulgence of great food, good fun, and what is left of her family. This is a woman who has two sons still living nearby, one son who has passed, and me -- half a world away. My dad's birthday is December 28. Some may forget; my mother will never forget.

Dad, if you're in Heaven -- and on Facebook (ha ha) -- know that we miss you and love you beyond measure. We are grateful for having been blessed by such a compassionate and brilliant man whom we could call our own. I hope we told you -- and showed you -- how much we love and appreciate you while you were among us but in the event we did not, I believe you know now. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to you.

Friends, everyone has a story. For those who think you know my mother's story, I am betting you do not. I think of my mother -- and her story -- and know that she who talks a lot, laughs a lot, may in fact be the same she who cries herself to sleep at night.

This Christmas when you gather together with your friends and family, show them lovingkindness and listen to them and their story. God bless, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all.