We have our Christmas tree set up in the back room. It used to be the back porch of our house so there is a set of windows between the back room and the dining room. From my seat here at the computer, all I can see is a dreamy spray of colored star bursts through sheer white curtains and it is very pretty.
Over ten years ago, my father moved into that room for a day. He had called me in the morning and said he couldn’t take care of himself any more and would I come and take him to the nursing home. I told him that you don’t just go to a nursing home all of a sudden and instead he could come to our house to live. His lungs had been failing for years but this day he had turned a corner and he knew in his gut that there wasn’t enough of him left to be able to live alone.
That was a very long day in which we made trips back and forth with his most necessary possessions and rearranged our house and went to the store and bought some heavy green curtains for the picture windows so he would have privacy in his new room. We didn’t have time to make meals and there was one quick trip to Burger King so we could have something in our bellies.
Evening came and he was sitting up in his bed and I was sitting in his old orange recliner looking at him and wondering how we were going to manage this. He looked at me and said, “This isn’t going to work.” So we called 911 and they came and scooped him up into a big, thick blanket and carried him out of the house like that and into the ambulance where maybe he found all the machinery and lights and activity quite exciting in spite of his fear. He told me later he thought he would die that night. In reality, he lived another 26 days.
This is the first year we have had our Christmas tree in that room. I sit in there every night in the dark, with the only light being the mini-lights from the tree, and just take it in. I sit in a rocking chair facing the wall where we had set up my father’s bed and think about that night in 2004. My thoughts always go to what I imagine he could be doing now. I always imagine him flying among the stars and planets and absorbing everything he sees in outer space. I also imagine he looks out for us and has all this amazing knowledge now that he is on the other side. I imagine he knows things he would never have figured out in life because of the limitations of his physical body with its weak lungs and his Asperger’s mind. He always wanted to understand things and I like to think that now he does.
We rarely went to church when I was growing up and I do not recall ever going to church on Christmas. I do remember the awesome anticipation of there being presents from Santa under the tree. To think that someone who didn’t even know me would go to all the trouble of flying through the night sky in a magic sleigh bringing me presents! There was no other feeling like that. It was unconditional love. Maybe that’s why it took me longer than most kids to give up on my belief in Santa. It wasn’t traumatic or anything. Eventually logic out-weighed the dream.
When our kids were little, and we were living away from home because of the military, we would sometimes have Christmas on the road. We’d sneak and pack up the presents in the trunk of the car and tell the kids that Santa would find us in our motel room and leave presents there. One year we checked into our motel room and found that my father had paid for the room ahead of time as our gift. He could be sneaky too.
It was because of my father that we attended the gatherings of our extended family for as long as we did. They are not an easy bunch to spend time with, for various reasons, but he didn’t see any of the nonsense. He was happy to sit with these cranky people and enjoyed the dinners whether they were well-cooked or not. He liked sitting with the other men watching football on TV. And he liked the long ride out into the sticks to get there and back.
If he is really out in space somewhere among the stars, and if he really has ultimate knowledge, then he understands why we don’t go to the family holidays any more (in fact there really isn’t a big family gathering any more) and he is not judging any of us for it.
Because I like sitting in there next to the tree and feeling that connection with my father, I’m tempted to say that we will have our tree in the back room every year from now on. But there really is no such thing as “from now on” and there never has been any such thing. The most I can say for sure is that we will probably set it up in there again next year and it might become our tradition for a time. That’s really the best anyone can hope for.