Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

Alone for the Holidays

December 27, 2016

It wasn’t as bad as being alone on an otherwise deserted island, but it wasn’t ideal either. It appeared that I would be alone for the holidays.

Thanksgiving is the most difficult day of the year for me (search for “Cheating Death One More Time,” posted November 18, 2011). Fortunately, my good friends and neighbors, Kathy and Glen Hoff, invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them and their extended family. I had officiated the wedding of their granddaughter Paige, and I’d been to events with the family before, including Thanksgiving the previous year, so it was comfortable and family-like for me. I even went over Thanksgiving morning to help Kathy with food preparation, and I contributed a little food to the event.

I heard from three men that Thanksgiving. The first was my stepson Richard Cornell; the second, my friend John; and the third, Jake. While Richard is the youngest of my late husband’s sons, he’s still only sixteen years younger than me, so not quite young enough to be my son . . . unless I had been very precocious in my youth. But I love him as a son, and it means a great deal to me that he bothers to call me every once in a while. I was sorry I’d missed his call that morning when I was at Kathy Hoff’s house helping with food preparation. I had dated John a couple of times, but no romance developed. Instead, we became friends. He is bright and very active with a mind that likes to penetrate everything using the left brain. I make a good foil for him. Jake had texted me the night before Thanksgiving saying he hoped I had some fun plans. Then we traded a few texts Thanksgiving Day. Considering how careful he was to keep things from getting more than superficially personal, it touched me that he’d texted.

Once Thanksgiving was under my belt, my attention turned to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For some reason, Christmas isn’t quite as problematic for me as Thanksgiving. Even though Howard had an incident necessitating a call to hospice Christmas night and even though he’d died a few days later, I knew he was close to death on Christmas Day, 2010, and it was time for him to go, so Christmas is a rather benign day for me.

I have fond memories of many a Christmas Eve with my late husband. For many years, we had the Christmas Eve ritual of going out to dinner. Every year, we went to a different place. The most memorable was the Christmas Eve dinner just a month after I moved to Colorado. We dined at the historic Oxford Hotel in Denver. I have no idea what I ate. I was in love; it was a love fest. It was snowing gently when we left the restaurant. We didn’t hurry. It was like being in a Hallmark movie.

I had fond memories of Christmas Day with Howard too. Across many years, I served champagne and little food delicacies as we opened gifts on Christmas morning. Then, after phone calls to and from family, we would get bundled up and head for Rocky Mountain National Park, where we wished the elk a merry Christmas before returning home to Christmas dinner. I had been mostly fine with Christmas since Howard’s death, content to be alone. I didn’t feel that way this year.

Again, fortune was with me. One of my favorite people (who also happens to be one of my apprentices), Lynn Smith, had invited me to Christmas brunch at her house. I was looking forward to spending time with her and the others who would be there.

But as much as I kept myself occupied on Christmas Eve, I was restless. I wanted to create some new rituals and future memories with someone. And New Year’s Eve was shaping up to be another holiday alone too. Why was I bothered about being alone this year when it hadn’t bothered me previously?

Apparently, once Pandora’s Box had been opened with Derek, some interior muscle had been brought back to life. It had little to do with sex (though sex was a wonderful offshoot) but everything to do with relationship. I wanted to love and be loved. I still couldn’t see myself marrying again, and I still couldn’t really see myself living with a man. But I wanted love.

Though not usually petulant, I was feeling sulky and ill-humored, and I didn’t like it. Then I went out to get the mail, and the little boy from next door ran over to wish me a merry Christmas and give me a hug–the same little boy who had brought me flowers from his yard during the summer. I knew that little boy was going to grow up to be a magic man because I no longer felt petulant. I went inside to pack up some soap I’d made that I planned to give to three of my favorite neighbors. And while the boy next door might be growing into his magic, my soap has full-blown magic to it. The scent is of my own creation, a mixture of essential oils. But what makes it magic is the love I consciously insert into it.

When I went to Kathy and Glen Hoff’s house to give them one of the gift bags, they invited me to come over for a little Christmas cheer that evening. Their big extended family would be there, and Andrea, Glenn’s daughter, informed me that there was always at least one straggler. I was happy to be a straggler with that crowd.

When I got back to the house, there were two text messages. One was from Jake. I’d left a message to wish him a happy Christmas Eve earlier. He’d replied. The other was from John. I hadn’t texted him because he was out of the state, spending Christmas with his son. I didn’t want to interrupt that visit. But he had interrupted it himself long enough to text me. I didn’t like admitting to myself that being remembered and contacted mattered so much to me. It was a remnant from half a lifetime earlier when I’d left a thoroughly abusive marriage and attempted to prove to myself just how independent I was. I sighed and let myself accept the fact that being cared for enough to be contacted did mean something to me.

Before the holidays, I’d bought a new dress. I had nothing specific in mind for that dress, but it made my waist look about as small as Scarlett O’Hara’s, it hugged by bosom appealingly, and it’s crinolined underskirt made me feel like a princess. I looked great in it and had hoped I’d find a reason to wear it. It appeared that it would still just be hanging in the closet into the coming year.

melanies-holiday-dress-for-2016

But that fact no longer mattered so much. I’d been reminded that what I really need is to be able to give love to others, whether in the form of magical handmade soap gifted to my friends, my time and attention when a friend wanted it, or my body and full self offered up to a man. And I’d been reminded that I also need to receive love from others, which might come to me as an innocent hug from a magical little boy, an invitation to a holiday gathering, or a text from someone I care about.

I had given and received a bit of love, and I realized that I wasn’t alone for the holidays after all.

 

Note: The names Derek, Jake, and John are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the men involved. The names Richard Cornell, Kathy and Glen Hoff, Andrea, Paige, and Lynn Smith are real, and I am blessed to have these people in my life.

 

Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall

 

Cheating Death One More Time

November 18, 2011

If Howard wanted to be the inconspicuous recipient of a blood transfusion, collapsing at the hospital entrance was not the way to do it. The medical staff crowded around him like a pack of vampires on a warm body. I could do little to help. He was already annoyed with himself and with them. I did not want to say or do anything to make matters worse. I stood back while they attended to him, wondering what the split in their attention was between fulfilling the Hippocratic Oath versus mitigating hospital liability.

He was taken to the emergency room, as opposed to the ambulatory care unit where he was to receive his transfusion. We were in for a long day. There is irony in coupling the word “emergency” with that particular unit in a hospital because there seems to be little urgency to the treatment received there. But on this day, the emergency room was bustling. On our way to the hospital, we had passed a serious looking accident, not half a mile from the medical center. If you’re going to have an accident, being close to a hospital is genius. By the time Howard was ensconced in a treatment room, the human wreckage had arrived at the hospital.

Still, they were living up to my expectations, at least as far as my husband was concerned. He was not a priority and we were mostly left alone for long periods of time. Ultimately, the medical staff wanted to admit him and keep him tucked away in a room at least overnight, thereby providing me with an opportunity to demonstrate that I could be trusted on the “no ambulances, no hospitals” pledge. He and I were a united front: no admission.

Hours—and endless frustration—later, he was placed in a private room in the ambulatory care unit and they were beginning preparations for his transfusion. Even as an outpatient, he was going to be there all night. The transfusion would take that long, not only because they were going to give him four units of blood, but because he had to be given saline infusions after each unit of blood. This would, of course, put a demand on his already overworked urinary track. Fortunately, there was a bathroom right outside his room. Unfortunately, he was hooked up to a monitor because of the earlier incident. In theory, that meant he would need to buzz an attendant every time he needed to go to the bathroom. In practice, I knew he would simply rip the sensors off, thereby setting off alarms, and struggle unassisted to the bathroom.

It didn’t take him long to prove me right. It was not only going to be a long night for Howard, but also for the ambulatory care unit staff. After helping him order some food, I made my escape. My presence all night would be of no help, and I was not keen to be an observer to the paces he was going to put the staff through. It had been morning when we made our way to the cancer clinic and it was now past sundown.

In a moment of stress induced practicality, it occurred to me that I should make a stop at Gretchen Minney’s house on the way home. She had some of my canning jars and I needed to collect them. I called to see if she was home. She was. I told her I would swing by to get the jars on my way home from the hospital. Hospital—the magic word. That was all I needed to say. By the time I reached her house, she had a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of champagne waiting for me, along with an open heart and a willing ear.

Every once in a while, a friend not only proves herself, but demonstrates her keen understanding of your precise needs. Even the best of friends do not often manage that, but this was one of those moments. It had taken me ten minutes or so to get from the hospital to her house, yet all was waiting for me when I arrived.

Awards are given for all manner of heroic acts, but never for an act like this. How would it be submitted? How could it be described? I couldn’t say that she had saved my life. Technically, she did not save my life that night. But I would argue that a glass of champagne, some nibbles, and the simple act of bearing witness to a story of crisis are highly underrated as life saving measures.

I was gravely worried and with good reason. When I brought my husband home the next morning, he went to bed immediately and slept most of the day. The following day, which happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, he was no better. In the past, transfusions had perked him up and brought color back to him. This transfusion had done neither.

That night, he was uncomfortable to the point of admitting it. His entire body was rebelling and in pain. Breathing was especially painful. He had been prescribed Ambien to help him sleep and oxycodone for pain, but had taken little of either. Now he asked me to bring him both. My husband, the stoic, was moaning and I found it unsettling. I couldn’t imagine how bad it had to be for him to be moaning. This was the man whose pain measurement was based on the level of pain provided by a gunshot wound. I gave him the requested medications, climbed into bed with him, and held him. After an hour, he felt no better and he looked scared.

I knew I needed to act and I knew whatever actions I took would be further demonstration—or the lack of it—that I could be trusted to follow his wishes. I asked if he wanted an ambulance. He was adamant that he did not. I had to honor that, but I also had to do something. I told him I was going to call Antonio. He fought against it, wanting no one to come, but it was either an ambulance or Antonio.

Antonio, the shaman to whom I had been apprenticed, was not only a shaman, but a nurse. He had urged me, over the last few months, to call him—night or day—if I needed his help with Howard. It was after 11:00 p.m. and I was ready to take him up on his offer. I called to find that he was still awake. I explained the situation and I think he must have been getting his clothes on, preparing to leave, before he hung up. I knew, from years of driving between my house and his, that it was a thirty-five minute drive. He arrived a good ten minutes earlier than it should have taken him. He had clearly ignored the posted speed limits all along the way.

I crept into Howard’s room to tell him that Antonio was with me. Howard was delirious and nearly incoherent. He muttered, “No, no. I’m asleep. I’m asleep,” thinking, in his confusion, that I had called an ambulance. I explained that it was Antonio, no one else, and that he had come to see if he could help.

I had never witnessed Antonio’s work as a nurse and was stunned by his ability to gain Howard’s compliance and trust with little more than a few well chosen, calm words. Well . . . that and summoning up the kind of energetic power few but those of us who practice shamanism can muster. He took Howard’s vitals. Blood pressure: 60/40. Pulse: forty beets per minute. Respirations: almost undetectable.

Antonio met me outside the room and told me it was unlikely Howard would make it through the night. In fact, he thought Howard would pass very soon. We sat, side by side, on the cedar chest at the foot of my bed in the master bedroom. And we waited. I had some Jameson’s I’d bought to make hot toddies with and I got each of us a slug of it. He might not have needed it, but I did. Years of treatment and months of declining health had skidded, abruptly, to a stop early Thanksgiving morning.

But after an hour, Howard was still among the living. Weak vitals, but still alive. Antonio went home, expecting that the next call from me would be the call to say that Howard had passed. He had no sooner left than the moaning began again. I called his cell and asked what to do. He suggested I give Howard another small bit of medication.

Sunrise found me exhausted and anxious . . . and my husband still alive. Thanksgiving Day. It was not clear to me if I should be grateful that Howard was still alive—my immediate instinct—or sorry he hadn’t passed during the night. And there was no way to know if he would make it through Thanksgiving Day.

What I did was so predictably Melanie-in-survival-mode that I saw it for what it was, even then. While Howard remained semi-conscious, at most, I made stuffing, baked the twenty-two pound turkey, and otherwise carried on as if there would be someone other than me to eat Thanksgiving dinner. And I gave thanks for everything good and true in the world.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall