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December 23, 2014

It's all different again and yet ...

Apologies for not posting sooner. Work and health dictate post frequency. Glad to be back. 

Ysabel de la Rosa
Since my mother died in 2001, dear friends of our family have invited my brother and me to share their family Christmas dinner with them. My father was there, too, until he left us in 2006. We've shared other losses since then, including the death of their son and of our sister. The Wagners have truly kept Christmas and its traditions alive for me. Their long-time connection to my family has helped me hold a thread of time in my heart that reassures me with its continuity. For the last 12 years, these friends have become our Christmas tradition, and feel like our original family to us. Friends is not an adequate term to describe them.

It will be different this year. Mr. Wagner is in the hospital this Christmas, with serious, but survivable conditions, one of which required surgery. There won't be a traditional Christmas dinner at the their home this year. No warm Madrilene soup or amazing first-course salads. I will miss it. I am grateful though, that our friend came through surgery well. My gratitude for the years of Christmases we have shared is so deep and profound that it squelches any regret at not being able to celebrate our combined family tradition this year. Different--again-- yet I celebrate and give thanks, all the same.

About 8 years ago, another family friend, Betty, fell ill with Alzheimer's disease. Before her brain deteriorated, she was the very definition of artistic, creative, spontaneous, and inimitable. She sang in choirs, created sculpture, painted, and did lithographs. Her husband Calvin outlived her by a few years, after proving himself a warrior of all caretakers. His death, unlike hers, was sudden and unexpected, the result of a stroke. Every year, Calvin gave bushels of honey crisp apples to friends and family. They were sitting in his kitchen, ready for distribution, the day he died. His children gave away the apples at his funeral. I remember how wonderful the sanctuary smelled, as though we were in a light-filled apple orchard. 

Honey crisp apples are on sale this week at my grocery store. I can find that reminder of Calvin often, but I was always sorry that I had not gotten to see more of Betty's artwork. I wandered into a group estate sale last week, and there were several of Betty's lithographs. Just like her: quirky, wonderful, daring in shape and contrast. I bought a few for me and one for a mutual friend.

Lots of dear ones I used to celebrate Christmas with are gone now. Betty and Calvin were two of the people we lit candles with at Christmas Eve services for many years. Illness and physical problems are part of this life. My prayer is that next year we will once again share Christmas dinner with our family-friends, and that this year will be only an interruption, not a change.

Ysabel de la Rosa
But, we can't know that. We can't know next year. We do know our past years, and we often feel deeply how they differ from our current ones. Once again, my Christmas is different, but the difference is laced with a knowing that has come to me over time, a knowing that we cannot ever truly be disconnected, unless we make it so.

It will be an exceptionally quiet Christmas, perhaps as quiet as the first one was. It will include a visit to the hospital and then, most likely, a simple meal at home on a cloudy, windy day. And believe me when I tell you, that for this and all else, I am eternally grateful.