I bought a Christmas ornament yesterday…a beautiful redbird made in Indonesia from pressed bamboo. I picked it up from the basket, twirled it between my fingers, and admired the beautiful, fragile piece of art that it is. Then I thought about how much my grandmother would have loved it. And so I bought it, in honor–and in memory–of her.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a child, my family lived in a large house divided into two apartments–our side and Mama Kat’s side. The beauty in this arrangement is that, at Christmas, we essentially had two houses to decorate. Twice the fun!
Mama Kat loved Christmas, as well, and held fast to traditions. Every year, the artificial green tree sat in the same place in her living room. Every year, she wound white Christmas lights around it, as I waited anxiously to place the ornaments on the tree. Every year, she lovingly unwrapped each ornament, slid an ornament hanger on, and handed it to me.
I was very particular even then. All the similar ornaments needed to be spaced far enough apart so as not to appear cluttered. The seemingly hundreds of crocheted white snowflakes needed to cover the tree. Her collection of ornaments featuring “The Night Before Christmas” must also be spaced accordingly. And the special, individual ornaments needed to be placed so everyone could admire them.
One in particular stands out. The flat, round ornament had a beautiful redbird displayed on its front. I knew how much Mama Kat loved birds of every size and shape, but redbirds seemed to be her particular favorite. I always hung that ornament in front.
When we finished decorating the tree, I sat and stared at the white lights. My parents always decorated our Christmas tree with colored lights and eclectic, homemade ornaments, as well as ornaments commemorating each Christmas my brother and I had experienced. I always thought the colored tree was the more beautiful tree, until I opened the door separating our side from Mama Kat’s. The green tree with the bright, white lights and all the white ornaments seemed to glow in a supernatural sort of way. It seemed so classy, so old-fashioned; it seemed to embody all that was Mama Kat.
Last year was my first Christmas on my own, and when Christmas approached, I searched for the perfect ornaments to hang from my very first Christmas tree. But as I stood in the store and stared at the boxes of lights, the choice between colored and white seemed like so much more than that. And when I chose the boxes of bright, white lights, I imagined Mama Kat’s tree, and I imagined myself as a little girl, sitting beneath it in a darkened living room, enraptured. I imagined that she would be pleased with even my simple choice of white Christmas lights. But even more so, I imagined that she would be pleased with the woman I’m becoming.
Mama Kat will turn 88 years old in a little over a week, but she won’t realize it. She won’t celebrate it. She’s been in a nursing home for the past four years, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I saw her about six weeks ago for the first time in ten months. She did not recognize me. I could find nothing to say to bring a familiar spark back to her dull, lifeless blue eyes. I could find no trace of the woman she once was. She is a shell, a fragment of her old self.
Tonight, at Radius, the discussion was about suffering. And my first instinct, as usual, is “Oh, no, I’m just fine.” As Stuart continued to talk, however, the image of my grandmother came to mind. And, suddenly, I was grateful for the darkened room. Thinking of her brings tears to my eyes and a stabbing pain to my heart. I can barely think of her without crying, and tonight, I wept silently as I prayed for my grandmother.
It seems that everytime I think of her, all I can ask is “Why?” Why her? And where is she? Where is that essence, that embodiment of my beloved grandmother?
After I saw her the last time, I cried on the phone with my mom. Then later, I called my dad, my grandmother’s son, and cried again. He listened to all my questions, let me cry, then confessed that he had not visited her for the same reasons. Then the conversation got significantly harder to handle, as my father told me that he’d been praying for God to be merciful and let her die.
At that moment, I told him that I was too selfish for that. I could not bear the thought of praying for that. But tonight, as I thought about suffering and Alzheimer’s and little redbirds, I finally prayed. I prayed for my grandmother’s suffering to end. I thought about how it would finally be for her, to be free from her ravaged mind, to meet Jesus and be whole again.
In the meantime, I have my cherished memories, and white Christmas lights, and my own little redbird to remind me of her.