The Christmas List

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad
By this time of the year, I usually have a ton of Christmas shopping done. Oh sure, I've picked up a couple of little things here and there but nothing close to the comfortable level I like to be at by now.

I have a place in my finished basement where I store all the gifts along with the materials I use to wrap them. When I was in the basement today going through paperwork for my dad's estate, I noticed just how empty the Christmas corner looked. 

My dad, who lost his reason for living when my mom died three years ago, was the main focus of most of my energy for the past three years until he died last month.
Since that day, I’ve been doing everything that I need to do for his estate, just like I did everything I needed for his care while he was alive. Handling finances, meeting with professionals, and doing the Australian crawl through the swimming pool of responsibility. 

I no longer visit the nursing home to spend time with him but everything else feels almost the same. Anxiety awakens me at night. Worried that I’ve forgotten something that needs to be done for him and then remembering he is gone. 

It’s easy to go from zero to sixty since we spend our lives reacting and pre-reacting for the next dropped shoe. But going from sixty to zero is harder. How do you turn off that switch that’s been stuck in the ON position for so long? 

I threw myself into work and volunteer responsibilities. Taking two business trips in three weeks and more or less allowing for no space in my brain for thoughts that would lead me to process the loss of my last parent. 

There is fear, yes. Fear that I will start to grieve and never stop. Fear that I’ll uncover some dark emotion or, worse, mistake. That I somehow didn’t do the care-taking “right.” I perhaps forgot to fully understand all the medical choices available. Or maybe I didn’t communicate his needs as well as I could have especially since his dementia kept him from doing that himself at the end. 

After getting the paperwork I needed for the estate attorney, I walk up the basement stairs and into my kitchen. I add the paperwork to the pile that sits at the end of my kitchen table awaiting some sort of action.

As I head back towards my home office, I notice my purse which sits on the counter. I stop, clench my fists at my sides, take a deep breath, and open the compartment in the front. I fumble around through the individually-wrapped life savers and the mai tai drink umbrellas that I save for my nephew until my fingers find the Christmas shopping list I started in September. 

On it are a list of names with gift ideas next to each person. The first line reads “Dad - pajamas.”

Since his world was so small in September that he was no longer able to understand the history books he loved, and the house he adored was no longer there to putter around, I had no other ideas.

I struggle with what to do about that line on the list. I don’t know if crossing his name off is a sign of moving on or a sign of disrespect to his memory. I pick up a pen from the counter and take another deep breath. 

I smile at the word “Dad”. I remember how much my parents loved Christmas. And then I put pen to paper. 

I cross out the gift idea “pajamas” but can’t bring myself to cross out his name. I look at that line on the list again and smile.

In place of “pajamas” I write “Mom.” Then put a check mark next to his name.

And so the healing begins.

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