As the time was drawing closer, and we all knew she was leaving soon, I decided I wanted to buy a Christmas tree. I wanted to buy a string of lights and cheap decorations. I wanted to take out the old tinsel and the candles and the old manger that her mother gave her. Never mind that it was the middle of August. Never mind that she was asleep in a hospice bed. Her peaceful, quiet room could be transformed into a winter wonderland. I knew she’d never see another one.
I think of her now faking Santa’s footprints alongside the fireplace and rolling out the dough teaching me how to make mince pies. I think of her hiding presents and sitting with us at the kitchen table writing our letters to the North Pole. I see my dad’s hands in big winter gloves carrying in the tree and the hum of his car warming up outside to take us to mass. I think of them staying up late wrapping our presents. My dad’s search for Victorian cards and sitting down to watch Rudolph.
She’d insist that every Christmas Eve we’d make it home by 5pm. She’d sit us all down to watch “The Bishop’s Wife,” her all time favorite movie, starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young. She’d bring out a tray of pigs in a blanket and crackers with mustard and cheese. It was her only request that we all be together for a few hours, every year, same time.
Every Christmas, they return to me a little. In the first sparkly star I see, in my daughter’s face when she saw Santa for the first time. In Bing Crosby’s voice and in the smell of a fresh wreath. Like a time machine, I’m with them when I write cards and make her trifle and set the table. And through the tears, of which there are still many at this time of year, I’m reminded that they are never far, if only in my memory.
In the few hours before she left us we took turns gathered by her bed holding her hand and letting her know how much we loved her. I told her how much I’d miss her and stepped outside for a minute to find “The Bishop’s Wife” online. The final scene, her very favorite, is a sermon. And although I am not religious, its message I think of every year that passes without them. And so I played it to her ear, one last time. A memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.”
Written by Sasha Rose Hamrogue
Sasha reflects on her mother’s final weeks of life at Regional Hospice and Palliative Care’s Center for Comfort Care and Healing.