So, just how did we celebrate the holidays with the constant threat of cancer and death looming over us?
Well, it wasn’t easy. I feel like I had to morph into a spy who utilized secret codes and gestures to communicate, while feeling like I needed to protect my family within the presence of some unwanted guests. No joke!
I swear, that first Christmas after Lea was diagnosed, felt like a whole bag of viciously shaken and mixed together emotions that shouldn’t have ever been put together. It was like some sort of hodgepodge tossed into a holey, old, dusty gunny sack that reeked of death that no one wanted to make contact with. Unfortunately, the holes in that bloody bag weren’t big enough to lose all the bad feelings.
It was full of conflicting emotions, like trying to be happy and excited for the holiday while feeling helpless and sad over the whole situation. Confusion at its finest. That wasn’t the kind of fusion experience any of us needed at that time.
It was sort of a ‘where’s my clown face paint?’ kind of instance. You need it to paint on a hideously large, grotesque smile while you’re bawling your eyes out type of dealie. Maybe that’s why I’m so terrified of clowns…and mascots.
Life after beginning treatment
Things began to move very quickly in mid-November. Lea was doing well, and my parents managed to move mountains and make miracles happen by purchasing a house in town, not too far from Clem and I. They’d been contemplating buying a place for a while, so they were thankfully somewhat prepared in this time of necessity.
After having that initial scare of things going wrong with treatment, we became a bit more comfortable and the focus shifted to getting Lea, Wade and the boys moved into their new home. To say it was chaotic, was an understatement of epic proportions. My mom, brother (DJ) and his wife (Rae) were busy packing up Lea’s previous house, while my dad worked on all of the things Wade had started years ago but never finished, in order to get the house listed and sold.
DJ and Rae are total minimalists and took to decluttering the house while simultaneously packing. I felt bad for Lea after the fact because much of the stuff she still used got tossed. It was kind of funny, but it was too bad Lea couldn’t be there the whole time to defend her belongings.
She and Wade didn’t have much money to replace things and having some of that thrown out was a bit of a kick in the pants. I would know because many of the times when I’d go over and help make a meal, she didn’t have what we needed and she’d say it got tossed. No matter, the troops rallied and they managed to get her moved in and mostly settled before the holidays arrived.
Cancer and the holidays
I can say that holidays are tough when someone you know has cancer. For some reason, joyous occasions seem to bring out the sobering realities much more fully than regular life does. It amplifies the good, but also the bad.
Clem and I were desperately trying to enjoy the holiday season with our girls. We’d been in a situation where we could’ve lost our daughter earlier in the year, and the perspective of not ever having her for such moments, reinforced the need for us to savor every one. While we were living in the stark reality of awakening, we were also still feeling like we had one foot in the grave.
As the holidays got closer, I found it difficult to focus on the good and seemed to hone in on the reality and gravity of the situation. I wanted to be excited and celebrate but was struggling to get there. My kids were very much the same despite our insistence on remaining positive and enjoying as much as we could. There were just too many questions that had no concrete answers and it cast a dark shadow on our attempts at being happy.
Holidays were no longer the same
Despite all of the things going on, Clem and I felt like we had to persevere and move forward in order to provide the moments we swore up and down that we would make the most of. There may have been a shift in the paradigm that we couldn’t control, but we could control our behavior and direct our feelings as we saw fit. As difficult as it was, I’m happy we managed that year.
My family has used Christmas Eve as our major jump off point for the holidays for decades. My mom started her tradition of sorts, after it was decided that our family stay at home instead of converging at my grandparent’s house after many years of their tradition. I can’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was still quite young when she decided to make the change. She felt it was time to start her own family tradition, and all of us seem to have held on to that, so that’s our chosen day for our major Christmas event.
It was decided that we’d all spend the holidays together at Lea and Wade’s new place, and we were determined to make that Christmas as special as we could considering the circumstances. Although this wasn’t going to be an easy task, we were all up for trying. Who knew how many of these gatherings we had left before our family became one less.
The relatives we wish not to discuss
This particular Christmas seemed similar to hosting people you don’t like and have to tolerate at your mother’s insistence. When I think about it now, I liken it to hosting the crotchety and obnoxious great aunt, who tells you how fat you’ve gotten since the last time she saw you, and the ever mysterious, odd and creepy uncle that everyone avoids entirely because he comes off as a little serial killer-esque, for the holidays. I shall refer to the unwanted and uninvited guests as Auntie Cancer and Uncle Death, and they came to partake in the festivities that year.
It’s like a family reunion where you’re obligated to invite everyone, including the relatives that no one wants to attend. I’m certain everyone can relate to having some of these folks in their family tree. Yes, we all deny but they’re all still family, so I’ll try and be nice.
The oddballs, outcasts, and perhaps outlaws
You know the ones I’m talking about. They just don’t seem to fit in and they make you feel uneasy because you never know what’s going to fall out of their mouths. There are also the ones you don’t know, but you’ve heard things.
Or better yet, the ones you should know but you really don’t. That’s an unfortunate one. Sometimes, if you cannot recall or have forgotten their name, they automatically become insulted because they see themselves as royalty within the ranks of your family tree. How could you?
Actually, they may say (dependent upon their level of narcissism and arrogance) how dare you? That may push them to feel inclined to embarrass you to no end because of their insecurities. Yeah, you’ll never forget that name ever again after that one. Meet, Uncle Schmuck.
How about the ones who have some sort of beef over some long, drawn out, ridiculous drama from eons ago over a bloody spoon worth $100, according to some dude on the Antiques Roadshow or some shit? Everyone just stands around focusing on them, awaiting the horns to lock so you can call on the cops to come and break it up. You know who I’m talking about.
These are the folks that have the police show up with The Jerry Springer Show in tow, to provide an update on a former episode they were on. No? Never heard of these types before? Maybe it’s just my family.
I’m sure we’ve all got ’em
That said, these are the usual culprits that no one wants to invite to the family gatherings. Weddings may be the exception because people like getting gifts, unless, you’re also like my family and enjoy the family drama action…as long as you’re not at the center of it. I’m only kidding, but I think you catch my drift.
I’m just tossing some ideas out there and come to think of it, I kind of feel like a pariah of sorts within my own extended family and perhaps Clem’s side of the family as well. Ah well, I guess I’m just a lone wolf or maybe the lone spy. Ha! Gotta look out for number one, if you know what I mean.
On that Christmas Eve, we rambunctiously poured all of ourselves into Lea and Wade’s new place and proceeded to don our best secret agent attire and portray ourselves as the very spies we weren’t. The very ugly Auntie Cancer and extremely creepy Uncle Death loomed gloomily in the corner, often attempting to walk out into the open at just one glance between any of us. I swear we all had the same kill face if any part of our conversation turned to talking about those 2, lying in wait in the corner.
Confirm and deny…this ain’t politics
We refused to give them any power over us but it was difficult. Any time I looked at my mother and father, I saw it in their eyes. I’m sure it was in mine too. Lea put up a front, like she normally did, but it was plain as day when she watched her kids.
I knew what she was thinking. I felt every single thing that she was thinking. For as joyous as she tried to make it look, one peel of one onion layer and it was bare for all to see. We were her family and we definitely knew her.
It’s one thing to feel your heart hurting but it’s another when it feels like it’s breaking into a billion tiny, little pieces. No mother should be contemplating if the moment she’s experiencing with her family is going to be her last. I should say no one should, not just mothers.
Uninvited guests and intelligence operations
Anyway, you couldn’t miss those 2 uninvited guests and we certainly couldn’t ignore them either. We did try. All of us walked around trying to ignore the 2 bright pink elephants in the room. I admit, there were many moments of us stealing glances from one another, while acknowledging their very presence and attempting to act normally like nothing was going on, but we were all thinking the same thing and yet we couldn’t say it aloud.
We couldn’t stand to keep our feelings and thoughts to ourselves because we’d explode emotionally, but no one could bear to break character. None of us could afford to pay the piper for what could come of speaking about the inevitable future. It was Christmas after all, so we remained in stealth mode.
There was no whispering but definitely eyeballing and gesturing going on between us to confirm how we were all feeling. I’m sure Lea caught us a few times. It was difficult to conceal because the tension hung in the air like a chili dog fart in a piping hot sauna. All we desperately wanted, was for the uninvited guests to leave.
That was the intelligence operation we engaged in that night. We were watching and relaying information via eye contact, utilizing clever hand gestures and even using secret code words between us to avoid talking about what was going on with Lea. It’s weird to look back and realize how in sync we all were that particular night.
Pajamas and memorable moments
As we attempted to move forward throughout the evening, my mother provided the ultimate distraction in the form of onesie pajamas. Ehrmagerd Mother. Yup, adult and child sized onesie pj’s for all, with short, knife like crotches that makes some of us folks shudder in fear of being ripped in half from the crotch up. For the love of all things furry, if you want to live, don’t lift your arms.
As she handed them all out to everyone, she gave each of us a stern look and told us to go put them on or else. When my mom says shit like that, you run and do what she says…cause she’s scary. We often hide the wooden spoons when she comes to visit, no lie.
Once we were all suited up, I broke out my camera, like I usually do. I’m the family photographer apparently. I’ve noticed that I don’t take as many photos now because I’d rather live in the moment than behind the lens, but I still enjoy snapping a few. I’m by no means a great photographer, but I still try and take pictures as often as I can.
A picture is worth a thousand words
I ended up taking a ton of photos of us being our usual selves in our ridiculous jammies. It was just what we needed to snap out of our spy roles and take the focus off the bad guys. In fact, I’m certain the display of immaturity turned Auntie Cancer and Uncle Death off to the point that they left on their own accord in that moment.
We progressed into our usual family photo shoot that we’d often partake in on this holiday night, but when it came time for Lea and Wade’s family photo session, Auntie Cancer and Uncle Death reappeared in a rush. It was back in Lea’s eyes again. The boys were getting tired and didn’t cooperate and I could see that Lea was starting to slip out of her act. The tears that welled in her eyes was more than a tell all.
We did what we could for a family photo and after that, the party seemed to die down. I think we were all too tired to don our tough guy spy appearance again and just couldn’t stand to make eye contact with one another anymore. We’d done the Christmas things like eat, talk and celebrate a little, but the moment had passed and it was now over.
It’s all history now
Another Christmas Eve in the books. At the time, it didn’t seem all that memorable but now, in hindsight, it truly was for so many reasons. What we wouldn’t do for another holiday with her again.
I wish there was a way to kick out the uninvited guests that sometimes affect our lives, but the reality is, one of these uninvited guests is actually a permanent guest, present for our entire life. The others, just don’t make themselves known until or if, they do. Honestly though, no one shakes Uncle Death.
I think we’re just able to ignore him (it?) more or maybe we accept him (it?) more readily because he (it) is a part of life. Life and death are really just conjoined twins to me. For some reason, Auntie Cancer must’ve wooed Uncle Death, and convinced him to put her down as his +1 in Lea’s life.
We were fortunate. It could’ve been much worse. If this treatment hadn’t been available, who knows what stage of the game Lea would’ve been at by then.
As it was, we managed to survive the holidays and make some treasured memories that year. It’s funny because each Christmas after that, I felt like we were going to have many more. The reason for that, was what was about to come in Lea’s journey, and it all started with the first scan after initiating treatment…in January.