The crisp outside air, the Christmas lights, the presents. Cars parked on the streets in every neighborhood, parties seen happening through living room windows all around. It's Christmas night, some celebrate the birth of Jesus, others just a day with family. Highways normally full are empty, as though everyone was told to stay home. A snowfall from yesterday still lingers, icy patches fill driveways and avenues.
In the house, it's much different and yet somewhat the same. Icicle lights seen hanging from the outside eaves. The Christmas tree stands stout in the corner, twinkling as it does every year. The kitchen counter filled with cookies and candy and all sorts of succulent delights.
The TV is on, then off, then on again. Changing from Kung Fu Panda to Duck Dynasty to some Christmas movie about a small kid with big glasses. A game of Banana-grams takes place on a table, a puzzle and Monopoly box seen waiting their turn. The day started early (truthfully, yesterday never really ended), A friend sending the message - "breakfast on the front porch" Cinnamon rolls and quiche brought in and enjoyed.
Make your way up the stairs past the chair lift last used on the day after Thanksgiving It's been that long since Patrick stepped outside, saw a sunrise or watched a squirrel climb a tree. Toward the top of the stairs you begin to hear other sounds on this Christmas night.
The up and down of labored breath. The constant pumping of oxygen to help ease the process. The rhythmic inhale that sounds like snoring one second and gasping the next.
Other sounds change from minute to minute. Sometimes it's sobbing, other times laughter, sometimes just conversation about the past or the future. On occasion, the tears flow freely even among a family that has made hiding emotion into an art form. Over the past year, hugs have been more plentiful, an awareness that life is fragile and every moment precious. We linger more in each others' presence, taking in the beauty, thanking God for even the insignificant events.
Gone are the hopes of a few extra days of life In its place, prayers, cries really, that he sees Jesus' face quickly, Today, if possible, just like we prayed yesterday and the day before.
Surrounding his bed we talk about life, read him stories about Notre Dame or devotionals that he enjoyed. We've said "Merry Christmas" more times than I can count. I'm sure if he could, he'd say "bite me" with a smile. My sister doesn't leave his side, speaking quietly in his ear, rubbing his head, Moving his arms, giving him meds, using a cold compress to cool him off.
She's the most amazing wife and caregiver imaginable, Tending to his needs, every day learning a new skill from a Hospice professional. Never sleeping a whole night, just getting an hour here, an hour there, Helping her kids deal with the emotions while not sure what to do with her own. I can't imagine her sorrow, her stress, her waves of gratitude replaced with hopelessness replaced with questions.
For an hour today his eyes were open and he was aware of what was happening. His speech long gone, not even a sound is possible, the only muscles still working--his heart, his eye lids, and an ever-so-small movement of his head.
His eyes were fixed, although he could blink and nod his responses. He labored to tell us something. By going through the alphabet he nodded on "H". We wondered if he was hot, or wanted his head moved. The next letter... "A" It's as far as we got, not knowing what he meant A tear coming from his eye--perhaps frustrated in not being able to communicate? Now I'm not sure. With family around him, is there even a remote possibility he was spelling "H A P P Y"? Perhaps it's hopeful thinking.
It could be concluded our family should be pitied, That it's a terrible way to go through the Christmas season. But that would be wrong.
The better lesson is to cherish every day, enjoy every moment. Hug those you love a bit tighter. Don't wait any more years to plan that family gathering, plan it now. Write a note to someone you love and tell them why they mean so much to you. Don't assume you'll have time to tell them later. Later is now. Forget that job promotion or trip or once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will take you to the next level but away from your family.
The seconds tick on. For now, the breathing continues. We wait. We love. We pray. We cry. We celebrate.
Merry Christmas from our family to yours.