This fine fellow enjoying Christmas dinner is my father-in-law, Donn. I took this photo of him in 2016 when Dwayne cooked Christmas Day dinner as usual, then we packed it all up to eat with his parents in their kitchen. They could no longer get up to our home to have supper with us.
We had been doing Christmas Eve supper with my in-laws -- seafood chowder and Maritime mock cherry pie -- but that fell away once I started doing the Christmas Eve service at church. I hated to let that go; Dwayne did it one last time on his own.
We try so hard to keep everything the same at Christmas time, to maintain every tradition and ritual exactly the way they've always been done -- yet we all know nothing ever stays the same. We know there will be years when someone is absent, there will be years when the table is overflowing. There will be years when there will be hardly anyone at the table. There will be years when there is no table.
For whatever reason. Illness or estrangement. Death or divorce. Someone has moved away for a job. The special dinner was done before Christmas Day. People decide to take a trip and spend Christmas elsewhere.
My mother decided to spend Christmas in Georgia with her grandchildren about the same time Dwayne's parents couldn't come up to our house for dinner so now our Christmas supper is a chacuterie board in front of the Christmas tree in the living room. Our Christmas Day is a lot quieter and a lot calmer, and we kind of like it. It's different, and in a few years, we'll be doing something different yet again.
There are no wrong reasons; there is just life, the way it unfolds, the way it happens. There is just the way families are, the funny mix of personalities and personal choices. There is just that one day -- which we build into the Whole Meaning Of Life, when really, it's the least important day.
The day a parent moves into the nursing -- that's a far more significant day.
That's where we are this year, Christmas 2019. Dwayne's 94-year-old father has moved into a nursing home after five months in hospital waiting to see if anything could be done for his hip then waiting for a nursing home room.
So this year, we won't wake up on Christmas Day anticipating a big home-cooked breakfast with friends; we'll eat simply, by ourselves, and then pick up Dwayne's mother to head to the nursing home to spend the morning together.
This brings up a whole lot of emotion for me. It's been 14 years since I spent my first Christmas in a nursing home with my father, and those memories, and the feelings attached to them, are as strong, as raw, as ever. (When Dwayne came home yesterday after helping his father get settled in the nursing home, and said to me, "The smell. It's the smell," I started to cry. I couldn't hold it in. I know. That's why I couldn't go with him.)
You don't spend Christmas Day in a nursing home and not come away profoundly changed. For me, it was the quiet. My father was in the locked dementia unit, and I was the only non-resident there. No one other than my father had any visitors on that day.
I'll never forget that.
Christmas is just one day out of 365 so I have no problem shifting our Christmas Day "celebration" to the nursing home, to be with Dwayne and his parents in yet another change to their long lives together. It's not the gifts or the food or the tree or even the location that matters -- it's the people who matter, the people who make the memories special.
Even if those people are strangers in a locked dementia unit.