2003 proved to be a difficult year. We watched mom lose the ability to use her muscles as ALS inexorably took her away from us. In her last months of her life, she communicated by nodding for "yes" and shaking her head for "no." Emptying the urine bag, changing the bedsore bandage, telling her we were sorry as we turned her on her side awhile she screamed ... those were our daily tasks in the fall of 2003.
It ended at midnight on November 14 when she turned her head as if looking at someone in the room and the next breath I waited to hear never happened. I rose from her reading chair, kissed her forehead, and said I loved her and would soon join her in Heaven.
I went into the living room and told my sister Jody and her husband Larry that mom had passed. In turn, Jody woke two of the girls, Quinn, finishing up college at Ohio University, and Vanessa, a high school senior, and everyone gathered in mom's bedroom. Tears flowed.
Some who read this may think that Christmas has become a sad holiday for me, but that's far from the case.
I spent the rest of November and much of December in Beverly with my sister and her family. In the week before Christmas Jody, Quinn and Vanessa were at a Marietta shopping center when my sister showed her girls small wrapped presents.
"They're from your grandmother," Jody said. "Their gifts she chose from her Avon catalog."
The gifts were pretty remarkable when you think of the implications. With death near mom hadn't withdrawn from this mortal world, but had wanted her grandchildren to get presents from her just as they had since they were toddlers. She said Merry Christmas from Heaven.
Her gifts seemingly from Heaven saved Christmas for me.
Such love creates wonderful Christmastime memories.
My memories of Christmases past would not exist without her efforts to make sure my sister and I always woke up on Christmas Day with nice presents under the tree -- even in tight financial times.
In my toddler days, dad and her took me to downtown Akron to see the wonderful animated window displays in O'Neil's, Polsky's and other department stores.
Later, when we lived in Rialto, California, Christmas shopping always included a trip up the escalators of J.C. Penney, Sears and the Harris Company to their special toy departments. I loved seeing the elaborate model train displays with their Christmas villages and snow-covered countryside.
The Christmas season in Rialto also included an evening trip through the neighborhood famous for its houses decked out with thousands of Christmas lights and front yards populated by animated Santas, elves, grinches, toy soldiers, carolers, snowmen, candy canes and manger scenes.
As an adult, I looked forward to my annual trip north just before Christmas where I would join mom Christmas shopping. We'd always shop in nearby Parkersburg and then head north to Akron where we'd visit Grandma Mid in Rittman and do a bit of shopping at the Akron/Canton malls.
I especially remember December 1994 up in Canton. Christmas music was playing in J.C. Penney and Cleveland Browns memorabilia challenged holiday decorations for dominance. The Browns were in the playoffs that year and it was exciting to see fandom going bonkers over the Browns' playoff appearance. We bought a Browns ornament for the Christmas tree.
The years march on, and as the old hymn says, "Precious memories, unseen angels from somewhere to my soul, how they linger ever near me, and the sacred scenes unfold."