Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Grinchy Cancer Kinda Christmas

My cousin recently talked about how much she dislikes all things Christmas and at first I was stunned. But then I sat back and thought about it. All she's ever know were cancer kinds of Christmases. For most of us, Christmas spirit is driven by magical memories dusted throughout our past. We would have Christmas Eve at Grandma Connolly's- opening presents in rooms filled with raucous laughter and cheer, tables lined with food-oh how we'd feast, feast, feast. Drafty cold sneaking in under the front door as we laid on the floor full and happy, trying out our new goods. The TV or radio blaring- elevating the volume of the entire festivity. Oh the Noise noise noise.

The first cancer Christmas- was long before I was born. My dad was only 8- and his family celebrated just months after losing their patriarch. My first cancer Christmas- you could feel the change in the atmosphere- the adults talked in hushed whispers about whether or not they should take my aunt to the hospital against her wishes. I was 10. She sat in the recliner, a shadow of her animated personality. She was always the first to play with us- emptying the cabinets, upending chairs so we could play grocery store. She always made the onion dip. And hated to waste food. She knew social convention dictated that no one take the last piece of food so she would cut the last piece in half and when someone would take it- she would cut the last piece in half until the remaining piece was a crumb much too small for other who's mouses. But as a child- the magic still swirled for I did not know that would be our last Christmas together.

It was shortly after that my cousin lost her Christmas magic- I think she was much too young to even remember it. I always loved Christmas- liked it a whole lot- but my poor cousin she did not like Christmas no, she did not. Her Christmas memories tainted with being shuffled from house to house while her brother or mother were in the hospital and late nights on the couch- trying to find the magic with a brother who felt like a seasick crocodile. Those are Cancer kinda Christmases- knowing nothing material could ever take the place of those memories and yet those memories are like a house full of unwashed socks, those memories are full of gunk. Cancer Kind of Christmases- stink, stank, stunk.

And yet you never know if that Christmas will be the last, so somehow you muddle through. A few years later- I was the the one shuffling from house to house- my brother the one feeling all grinchy. The cold tends to surround you- it comes from within. Not knowing what gift to give when the only gift you want is more time. We used to lay under the tree and watch the lights twinkle off the ornaments. We'd bundle up and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We decorated cookies- had Christmas programs. Yet somewhere between that first cancer Christmas and this one- you learn to forget. You choose the happy memories and stuff the rest up the chimbley. And you puzzle and puzzle til your puzzler is sore at how those memories used to be so much more.

The year my dad was sick came as a shock. We had done this drill before. I knew where that train was heading and I did not like it one little bit. Yet my dad would smile and make some crazy joke and get some awful, wonderful idea and we'd end up hours away looking for a tree in some forest. It had to be the biggest. It had to be the best. And when we found it- I would sit in the back of the van, making sure the emblem of our Christmas spirit did not end up dumped on the road somewhere. And somehow it survived and spent the next 2 weeks being attacked repeatedly by our cat. Nightly we would hear the  jingle of ornaments and moments later the crash of the tree. And we would ask her- why are you attacking our christmas tree, why? I think dad finally anchored the thing to the wall. That was the Christmas I knew the gift we all wanted could not be wrapped with ribbons or labeled with tags. The gift we wished for could not be packaged, or boxed, or bagged.

The next Christmas had more holes than we could fill. Yet somehow we went through the motions.  Sometimes you have to pull out the snoof and the fuzzles, the tringlers and trappings! We changed some of the traditions. Sometimes in order to honor a memory- you just have to leave it. You hope that some Christmas your heart won't feel so tight and you wait patiently for the bright morning light. For me that bright morning light was Christmas with my little whos.

When your little who has the grinchies for Christmas- its hard to compare to the years before when you realize you had not a care. I remember just praying that Lily would be home for Christmas and being so exhausted that the thought of buying or wrapping presents would drive me to tears. Yet I did not want them to wake up and to cry boo hoo and I was grateful just to have her in her own bed that night.

It seems every year we adopt a new tradition. I was having a particularly Grinchy day- we had an hour between dropping the girls at a performance and meeting friends for dinner so I asked Bella and Phillip what they wanted to do. Bella wanted to ride the train at the mall with me and Phillip wanted to pick out gifts for a child on the Angel Tree. In my rush to get everyone every where- I had forgotten that we do the Angel Tree every year. It was in that moment that I felt the spirit of giving from my child and I think my heart grew 3 sizes.

Of course this year the Grinch is watching our who family closely with a sour grinchy frown.  I smile and spend time driving all over town. And they sing sing sing sing. These memories are the ones I want them to cherish, for they are magic to me. For this year we have hands to grasp. So I will get up at 3am with Lily and watch Once Upon a Christmas because she is so excited she just can't wait. And I will stop for a second and let Bella measure my wrist for the 30th time for a Christmas present she is trying to make. And I will let Kiera help wrap- which normally drives me insane- but she does a good job even if it's all left handed. And we will make the teenager watch movies with us- because although he hates it now- I know he will appreciate it later. And I know Christmas will come whether I find the right package or present because the present is now and we are all in it.


  1. You are such special people. I feel honored to have you in my life. Have a Merry Christmas. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  2. I have never met you and yet I know your heart. You inspire me - to be "in the moment" with my grandchildren and with those I love; to appreciate the many blessings I've been given and to understand that life's hurts and challenges also mold and grow me - as they have molded and grown you; and to make every single moment count. You and your family are in my prayers.


Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)