Akemi shot me a nervous glance; I knew what she was thinking. The host of last Saturday night’s Christmas party was going around the room asking everyone to share their favorite Christmas memories. She and I were in wordless agreement that we hoped he would stop before getting to us.
Certainly we have happy memories of Christmases past. When put on the spot, we coughed up a couple:
me listening to the Dickens carolers at the end of my Christmas Day shift at
Disneyland, Akemi listening to her Walkman as we drove Christmas mornings from
my family in Anaheim to Bing’s family in Palo Alto.
But Christmas took an irreparable hit exactly ten
years ago, and we have been in recovery mode ever since. I didn’t know it at the time, but Christmas
eve 2002 was the last “normal” time I spent with Bing. I was trying to get him transferred from
Huntington Hospital to the City of Hope, but processes were slowing down for
the holidays. I thought Akemi was better
off being in Peralta Hills with my family, but I found out much later what a
traumatic time she had there, subjected to everyone else’s realizations that
Bing was dying.
That Christmas eve night, Randy Huff came by his
Huntington Hospital room and we watched “The Sound of Music” on TV. After Randy left, I knew there was so much
Bing and I needed to talk about, but neither of us could. The next morning, I could tell the impairment
to his central nervous system was worse, and from then on, we really weren’t
able to have a conversation. Chris Wong
had kindly brought us a Christmas tree and so many others were beside themselves
trying to do nice things, but there was no room in the inn for us that year.
As hard as that Christmas was, Akemi and I were to
discover that Christmas 2003 would be even harder. We
could not escape the painful reliving of his last days, and could not bear to
do the “normal” thing of being with either my family or his. When Wendy and Craig offered that we spend
Christmas with them in Cayucos, we jumped at the invitation.
The first thing Akemi said as we got into our car on
our way home from the Saturday night Christmas dinner was that the “best” Christmas
was that one in Cayucos, although she couldn’t share that. I understood, and agreed. It wasn’t the happiest Christmas for us,
clearly, but maybe it was the most meaningful, in that we were given as much of
a chance as possible to heal that first Christmas after, and a start to
reconciling our sorrow with what should be a time of joy.
I can see that with each Christmas since then, our
hearts have become a little less heavy, and the memories of Christmas 2002 a
little less painful. With each
Christmas, I have been more willing to be back in the “Christmas spirit,” that
is, until last Christmas, when I was feeling so awful. So as we “wrap” this year’s Christmas, I’m agreeing
with Akemi that this has been the “best Christmas ever.” We have my health mostly regained, and my job
retained (at least thus far) through a dean transition. We have affirmation of love and support from
many. We had a ward Christmas program with
music that was described as “epic” and moved the congregation to tears. We even have heat and cabinet space in the
bathroom, and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Ten years later, I can say that the joy of the here-and-now finally has
overcome grief-filled past.
P.S. This cross-stitched stocking took me a couple
of years to finish for Akemi, but I’m so glad I did – I don’t have the eyesight
for it now!