Ghosts and Christmas

My friends and others have been awfully solicitous this season. It's the first one since Mummy died, since indeed my brother and I joined our cousins in being the elders in the generation (and pretty young elders we are too, the eldest of us being not yet 52). Christmas is a time for family, a time for gathering together with elders, and in our family in particular Christmas has always been special. But in all honesty it hasn't been as hard as people, myself included, might have expected. In many ways, last Christmas was harder. My mother was at her lowest, I believe -- not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. She was coming to terms fully that she was not going to lick the cancer. She was trying a rough new chemotherapy regimen, and the side effects of this one were far crueller than the one before. It was a desperate move, because she'd not long ago come back from Texas, where she had gone in a last-ditch effort to fight the disease, and the consensus there, after much consideration, was that there was not much that could be done. She was depressed. She was unable to eat and was being fed intravenously. She was confused -- a side effect of the chemo. She couldn't find words to express herself. And more and more she was in pain. The good thing about Christmas for her was that she saw family and friends who would not ordinarily be in town. The bad thing was that she knew she was never going to see them again. Last Christmas was the difficult one.Still, the memories I have of last Christmas -- memories of her room, which was cheerful enough, with windows on three sides and the afternoon sunshine slipping through the blinds, memories of all those people who loved her finishing the projects she had engaged them to do when she was still well -- painting the house for Christmas, installing a generator, rewiring the house, and so on -- are bittersweet. They are bitter because my mother disappeared for a short while, and because Christmas was for all intents and purposes without her, even though she was physically with us. They are sweet because there were moments that were very special -- like the concert that was held for her by the Highgrove Singers, on her back porch, with her sitting, wrapped in her dressing gown with her chemo cap on her head, listening to the impossibly beautiful music and weeping because it was so beautiful. There was the morning, in the new year, after we had decided to stop the treatment as it was hurting her as much as it was helping, when I woke up to find my mother beaming in her bed; "Nico," she said, "I had a thought." And this was so very special because we knew then that the chemo brain was disappearing, her mind was clearing, her words were returning, and she was able to think again. There were the visits she had just before she went into hospital, where her mind was sharp again even though her body was weak, and she was able to ask about families and send love to the absent. And there was the day -- I missed it -- she asked to go sit in the garden, and the other day she asked the nurses to take her out to inspect the brand new paint job. There was the day she went into hospital when she was being given options for her care and she was making her own decisions -- a day full of worry and trepidation, but also a day that we treasured because, weak as she was she was once again herself: brave and decisive and trusting and ultimately fully committed to life.So this Christmas wasn't the tragic one that we expected to be. We are not fighting anything, and we are not trying to win any battle that is bound to be lost. The cousins who make up our so very young generation of elders all came together at my brother's house, us and the new generation. We Skyped the absent among us and spent some Christmas with them. We thought, and sometimes talked, about the ghosts of Christmases past -- our absent mothers and fathers, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. And we watched the children coming up in our shadows, and it was all, all good.