The church is full on Christmas Eve. Elbow to elbow, friends and family nudge in to make space for late-comers. A trio of angels surround the Advent candle circle, gleaming in the soft light of early evening.In a lovely piece of encircling grace, the same family whom I wrote about way back when lit the Christ candle for this first Christmas Eve service in 20+ years where I have no role to play. That year they were new to our community. This year, he is the new associate pastor and his little ones are almost all grown up.
That final singing of "Silent Night" is always moving to me, watching the light spread throughout the room, reminding me
each time that the smallest candle can light the way. Just the smallest of flame, in a sea of darkness.The next day, I watch from the kitchen as the morning sun lights up the soft honeyed-hues of the hardwood floor, bouncing off the ornaments on our fully-loaded tree. Just three of us for Christmas breakfast - my husband, my mother and me.
She comes to the table shivering a little bit - she always shivers when she comes here, even if it's August - because at 90, she is always cold. But we've turned on the small gas fireplace near the breakfast table and she soon warms enough to smile and sit down to eat.
I've made pumpkin waffles - made them on her small waffle maker which I just moved from her house to mine. She is nearly blind, needs hearing aids, and is so forgetful that cooking is getting to be hazardous, so we're moving her into an assisted living apartment the first week of 2012.
To see her like this causes me physical pain. Always bright, charming, funny, beautiful, my mother is now a worried, frail, confused old woman. And she knows it. She is frightened by it and frequently in tears.
But breakfast is good - she eats 4 squares of waffle, adding whipped cream and fresh berries to a couple of them, and seems quite content. This is the most she has eaten in several days and it gives me a strange feeling of comfort to be able to give her something that suits her, that makes her want more.
There isn't much room for 'more' in her life just now. She can barely manage what is. In fact, the tension surrounding this move has made every symptom worse and I wonder - will settling into this new space bring improvement? Stability? Less worry for me and less fear for her?
We spend much of Christmas day doing quiet things - napping for mom, computer work for me. I open the back gate so that she can go out and wish my brother a Merry Christmas. My youngest brother, the one who died two years ago and whose ashes are buried beneath a fledgling oak in our side yard. My brother who had no life when he died - housed in a sober living residence, loving AA, dealing with a severely damaged heart. He died in his sleep one early October morning and my mother has not been the same since that hard day.
We drive to my daughter's home in the late afternoon sunlight, admiring the crystal clear view of the Channel Islands as we cruise down the 101. It's beautiful out there, and beauty brings its own kind of comfort, reminders of goodness and life and Something/Someone bigger than we are.
The children are wild and wonderful when we arrive - glad to see us, making us feel welcome and loved. My small mom, who had dissolved in tears almost immediately after speaking with my remaining brother by phone earlier that afternoon - she breaks out in a sunny smile, clapping her hands to see the energy and liveliness of my grandchildren as they play together.
After the food, after the crazy-making ripping through paper and ribbon and box and bag, we all help mom out to the car that will carry her home through the night. She has trouble navigating the uneven flagstone walkway, so a son and a son-in-law both offer cell phone flashlights, I offer a strong arm, my husband goes ahead to open car doors. I help her up into her seat - she is shivering again in the frosty night air - and I buckle her seat belt. There. She is safely stowed for the last leg of this long weekend journey.
But really, is my mother safe? No, I don't think so. There is nothing safe about the fragility of her life, there is nothing safe about slowly coming unraveled, there is nothing safe about losing yourself, piece by agonizing piece.
"God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken," the psalmist sings out.
Perhaps there is safety there. Yes, I will choose to believe that. In every way that truly counts, my mother is safe, she will never be shaken.
Even when she stumbles, even when the tears come, even when she forgets who I am, even when she forgets who she is.
I am more thankful than I can possibly put into words to be heading out of town for four days with my husband and our oldest daughter and her family. We need a spell away from these concerns that hang heavy so much of the time. I may find time to write while we're gone and I may not. We're bringing some projects to work on - I got a new scanner for Christmas and my eldest grandson is going to help me figure out how to use it. Because, you see, I have literally THOUSANDS of old photos/negatives/slides that need to be digitized and stored. And we're bringing some watercolor supplies. Dick and I don't 'do' art, but Lisa and her crew? They're all gifted and love to spend time just dinking around with simple instructions and basic art supplies. So we'll try it - maybe we'll like it! I am posting this today with quite a list of friends because I don't know when I'll post again this week. And then the next week, I move my mom. So, those of you who know me enough to pray for me, I'd appreciate your thoughts over these days, both the restful ones and the stressful ones. I will, as always, carry you with me as I go.