Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Presents Given --- And Received

Christmas Day really started the week before, because planning was required.  The caregiver who comes twice a week to bathe mom agreed she would come Christmas Eve night and then Christmas night to stay with mom, while I went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and did my usual midnight adoration hour on Tuesday.  I paid her in advance last Friday so she could do any last minute shopping --- or in her case, since I know money is tight for her, shopping. 
She arrived Christmas Eve at 10, so I could go home, change and get to church to beat the rush.  My early arrival gave me time before mass to read the Christmas readings and, as I sat in the little adoration chapel behind the altar, listen to the choir singing carols.  It was heavenly.  Mass, as expected was very crowded, and I had the rare treat of listening to one of Fr. John Riccardo’s homilies.  He is a blessing for his parish, our Church, and me personally.  I see and listen to him often during the year, still, I know what a Christmas blessing he is, as is my knowing him.  After mass a friend I haven’t seen in months stopped me on the way out.  “The book you gave us is wonderful,” he said.  “Wonderful!” I replied.  “You mean you opened your presents before Christmas Day!!  Next year: Coal!!” I scolded him, and we laughed. 
A friendship not thought of often, or not often enough: another Christmas blessing.
At home, a glass of wine, a piece of chocolate or two ( --- What?  You know red wine and chocolate go together, don’t you?  And besides, it’s Christmas!), and sitting on the couch to watch the end of Miracle on 34th Street on television.  “There is one; there is one!”  A fitting end to the day.
Christmas morning at home I didn’t set the alarm, and amazingly slept until after 8AM.  That was heavenly too.  A quick morning routine, picking up the packaged presents delivered by the front door and the gift “hidden” on the back deck under the bench, and the mail which contained some papers and magazines I would enjoy this week, and then I was off to the 7-11 store down the road for coffee.  Ron, the store owner, was staying open Christmas Day, managing the store while he gave his employees the day off.  I know things are very tight for Ron, and I know how he cares for his daughter in college now, and his aged parents who have problems I am only too well aware of.  The store was closed, though, when I arrived; up through the night Ron was napping for an hour.  Standing there a moment looking at the “Closed” sign, trying to decide if I should go home and make a pot of coffee, Sam arrived on the scene.  I often see him there in the early morning hours on my way to mass each day; Sam lives with and cares for his elderly parents.  His morning walk and coffee are often the highlight of his day.
“Knock on the door,” Sam said.  “Ron’s in there; let’s wake him up.”  But we didn’t have to, because shortly he came, yawning, to the door and opened it.  “Merry Christmas,” was said in unison.  The coffee was already made, and as we got our cups, out of the blue Sam mentioned that his dad was in the hospital.  “He fell two days ago and bruised himself; and they wanted to do some tests.  Then, in the hospital, he fell out of bed, and they did some more tests.  He has Alzheimer’s,” Sam quietly said. 
I spoke a bit of my knowledge of the disease, gained from my reading, from others in my monthly caregiver’s support group meeting, and from Maryellen, who cares for her husband with Alzheimer’s, and has so beautifully written of how she supports him, in love.  I told Sam I will print out all my references and notes (and will buy him a book or two from Amazon) and will get them to him one day next week.  “And Sam,” I said.  “You need to tell your siblings how things really are, and get some support for yourself.  As I found in the support group and through even the internet, you are not alone in your trials.”
The discussion then drifted to Christmas dinner, and Sam said he’d find something in the freezer for himself; “mom and dad have things they like, it will be no problem finding something for them.”  I told him I was having Cornish hen, and how easy it was to prepare --- any idiot could do it in an hour.  “Even you,” I said. “But wait, the package I bought has two hens in it; I’ll run home and get you one.” 
At home, my mind revved on the coffee I’d had.  I got the Cornish hen for Sam, and then also got a package of my chili from the freezer and another of my spaghetti sauce.  And in case he lacked the supporting cast, I threw in some Lowry’s Seasoning Salt for the hen, and a package of angel hair pasta for the sauce.  Heading out the door, I paused.  I remembered how boastful Ron was of my chili, and so I got him a frozen container also, and I pulled out one of the Christmas-gift books which had been in the bag on the deck; I’d not only read the book, Amazing Nearness (on the Eucharist), I had given away seven copies of the book to friends this Christmas (it was good!) --- so I took the book and threw it in the bag with the rest of the stuff.  I know Ron’s a Catholic and always asks me to pray for him, but “I don’t get to church too much” --- and I knew he certainly wasn’t going to mass this Christmas Day.  But perhaps another day.  Ron said the chili would be his Christmas dinner, there at the store.
They both appreciated the presents, and, I think, being remembered --- by some guy in the 7-11 store.
By 10AM I was back at mom’s; she was still sleeping, and the caregiver and I exchanged “Merry Christmas” wishes, as I told her to be careful driving home.  It had snowed Christmas Eve, and the roads were very slippery in places.  But outside, the white and the quiet were beautiful.
When mom finally woke at eleven, I gave her breakfast and coffee, and she settled in to watch her favorite television shows --- AMC was running cowboy movies all day Christmas Day.  Looking at the TV Guide for the TCM channel, I saw Going My Way, The Miracle of Fatima, The Nun’s Story, The Song of Bernadette, and the King of Kings were playing at the same time.  Oh well, perhaps mom would take a nap and I would catch a glimpse of those wonderful oldies.  But no matter, I had brought my CD player and a pile of Christmas CDs which I had not listened to in years.  Another internet friend had reminded me of the lovely peace that Christmas music brings, and since mom can’t hear anymore, while she watched cowboys shooting the Indians (and each other) I listened to great voices, like Nat King Cole. 
I filled the bird feeder hanging from the front room window with seed; the birds got a Christmas present too.  And a short while later I saw mom excitedly point to the window:  “Look at all the birds.  There’s sure a mess of them.”  And I watched for a while also, looking at the flock patiently waiting on the hedge at the base of the window, pecking at the snow covering for a quick drink.  There’s blessings here, too.

After breakfast, I gave mom her presents from under the little artificial tree.  I gave her six new gowns which I had a seamstress make, patterned on her favorite one.  Naturally, many were in her color, purple, and she loved them all.  She looked at most of the other gifts, smiling at some, saying “that’s nice” at others, and confused at some, like the CDs I gave her of animal movies (and of the picture -- above -- she thought was her grandchild, but was her great-grandchild).  But I know she will appreciate them all.  And at dinner time we shared a Christmas wafer.  She didn’t remember what it was, but it was an old tradition in our family, to take the Christmas wafers and share a piece with each member of the family, as we wished one another blessings and thanked each other for being family.  Mom didn’t understand when I gave her a piece, but the pieces I sent to each of her granddaughters were also shared this day, with us, and with their families.  The tradition continues.
My Christmas Day was largely spent alone with mom, yet look at how many other people were part of the day.  Look at how many people we were able to give presents to --- some of who are enjoying the present of these pictures of mom right now --- and having pleasant memories.  And look at how many people gave presents to us, from close friends to ones far away, and ones from the internet who we never have even met face to face.  All these things were blessings.
How many blessings happen in your day which you don’t even notice; opportunities for you to receive a blessing --- or to give one?  For many of us, our days are filled with trials and frustrations, perhaps even anger and pain.  But always, there are people around us, people God has put there for us, who are His blessing --- if we will just look at them and accept the little they offer.  A gift – perhaps, but more often a smile, a “good morning,” or even a “Merry Christmas.”  These are God’s gifts to us, the blessings He brings to make our day better, and to tell us that He loves us.  Little things --- not great, huge miracles; love comes in small packages.  And it is given that way also.  Listening to Christmas carols, mass and a heart-warming homily, meeting friends --- some close and some virtual strangers, sharing the knowledge I had that some others desperately needed, some chili out of the freezer, a book I’d already read, some spaghetti nearing its expiration date, and some simple dresses that most women wouldn’t consider wearing, and a flock of ordinary blackbirds.  And a picture of an old grandma. 
These are the gifts that matter; these are Christmas blessings. 
But they come every day, if we let them, if we are open to God in our life, not in prayers answered or great miracles, but in the little things, the things that Someone who loves you does.  


  1. I enjoyed this post. It felt almost like I was there myself, standing at the door waiting for Ron to open up. I shared in the news about Sam's Dad falling, and your sharing what you knew about Alzheimer's (did a double take when I saw my name) You gave him good advice and offered help in the way of your notes and a book from Amazon. I'm beginning to think of you as "The book man".

    I caught your sense of excitement when you went home to get the cornish hen, and then thought of even more you could do. You were having wonderful Christmas blessings before you ever got to your Mom's house.

    That you had a seamstress make the night gowns for Mom in her favorite pattern and in her favorite color, was so thoughtful. Her photo reveals her pleasure in all the blessings in her day.
    I was happy reading of your many blessings, and even happier that you were so present to all God was doing.

    Our day was also full of joy; and awareness of God's blessings. God is good.

  2. "The book man" Hmmmm. On Sundays especially mom watches the Animal Planet channel, and there is a series about "the turtle man," a guy who captures large turtles invading Southern ponds. He mostly does it for enjoyment, getting paid in cookies or just thanks. I gave away about 75 books this Christmas (about a dozen titles) --- "the book man," I guess I could be (and have been) called worse names.

    I'm happy your Christmas was as pleasant as mine. I still haven't gotten home to open presents from friends, maybe that'll be my New Year's Eve surprise. Receiving presents never really meant much to me, and it even means less now. God has blessed me with so much, anything more is just gravy.

  3. Tom, thank you so much for sharing the simple joys of your Christmas here. I am deeply touched. The ending of this post reminded me of a video I watched yesterday. Our Archdiocese has been putting together weekly videos for the year of faith featuring Bishop Hying. His most recent message reflects your post so wonderfully. Maybe you'd like to watch it-it's on the bottom of the page:

    God bless you and Merry Christmas!

  4. Thank you for this Christmas present, Anne. I'll take time to view the whole series this week; I trust in your judgment, I'm sure it will be worth my time.

    Happy New Year to you and your family; may God give you many unexpected blessings in this new year.