Friday, December 24, 2010


I have spent the past few weeks imbedded in Christmas past, spending time with so many levels of family, family that has changed with the passage of time, marriage and death, separations and reunions, and really, not much changes at all and is still changing.

Clearly, I am having a difficult time expressing my thoughts.

Here's the thing: Taditions are gravity. They remind me who I am, who I have been.

I married into a family with different traditions. In the beginning I said they have no traditions. Then, I think I downgraded the description to crappy traditions. Now, I just like mine better, and have spent the past seven years trying to teach these people how to have Christmas. Not because I think they need to learn, but becasue I want to have Christmas my way. Slowly but slowly my enthusiasm is wearing them down. My husband asked me if he ever gets a voice in decorating the tree. I told him when he stops trying to put bats and devil horns on it. This is some serious shit. I have little patience for athiests, agnostics and pagans this time of year. I am willing to share the holiday, but not to accomodate religious differences. So. To quote Anne Lamott, I'm not exactly Christian, I'm Christian-ish. I love the baby Jesus. Bad Santa is not a Christmas movie.

We just walked up and down Peacock Lane and watched White Christmas, my holiday favorite. (And Elf. I love Elf.) My husband used to leave for a couple of hours -- but this year he watched it with me. I love the whole commercial mess -- well, not the whole mess, but I love giving trinkets to my friends and family, love shopping the shiny aisles, thinking of someone else for a change.

At work, it is the busiest time of year, as long absent relatives show up and ask, "Why is the lady across the hall wearing the sweater I got grandma last year?" And I try to explain, in the nicest possible way, that Alzheimer's disease improves a person's ability to share; that personal property has little meaning. Finally. That I, personally, look forward to forgetting what is mine. They don't always embrace my philosophy.

We always have a Christmas Cookie Party. Family members bring in a plate of cookies and the recipe and we sing Christmas carols. It is a sweet time. It has become a pretty big deal. I am not nearly good enough at singing to be in charge of entertainment. Next year I'm hiring a singer.

This year, a new man and his wife moved up from LA , and as always, their children are torn over the decision to move them. The upheaval has been difficult, but the wife, (we'll call her Marigold, he can be Harold) has Alzheimer's, so she pretty much goes with the flow. So, they come to the Cookie Party and I'm leading the singing, and Harold says, "Do you think we could sing "White Christmas?" I said, "Well, none of us is Bing Crosby, but sure, let's give it a try." So he starts singing, and Harold IS Bing Crosby. He has this deep, resonant voice, obviously well-trained pipes, and Marigold leans into him adoringly, the absent glaze of dementia or pure love, and I'm thinking pure love. And just as he gets going, his daughter comes around the corner and sees all of this, and I think it made leaving them a little easier for her.

Then, we all tell stories of our favorite holiday memories, which doesn't sound fair, I know, to ask in an Alzheimer's unit, but there you are. And they do have those long ago memories. Anyway, the chef comes over and shares his favorite memory of going over the river and through the woods to "Old uncle so-and-so's house." And how he was very rich uncle so-and-so and getting old and wanted all the family together and they drove across California and all that to BelAir or something and when they get there, Old uncle so-and-so is Bing Crosby. And he sang White Christmas.

I wish I could tell you all of the amazing things families do for their folks this time of year. I think there is a common misconception that nobody comes, nobody visits. This is not true. Wednesday night, one of my patients who is on hospice, who is 95, her seven children came in and sang carols for her. Seven grown children, older than me, who have, like so many families, scattered to the four winds, gathered together for a party in her room.

And for Ella, who no longer understands leaving and coming back, her huge family will visit her where she is, two by two, and she has a new Christmas every couple of hours, and she can handle that. ...and apple Stollen for Inga, and chopsticks for Miso; and rolled flat cookies from Norway for Betty who can't stop eating them and won't save any for her great-grandchildren; and for Laverne, Fred will come and eat lunch with her every day and every day and every day and she will never know why they arent' at home.

This year I bought two boxes of ziplock bags for people to take cookies home so we wouldn't be stuck with all of the chocolate in the world. The pharmacy rep, a delivery guy and the mailman all took bags home with them.

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