The 12th Blog of Christmas Every Light on Every Street
Last year on the night after Christmas, even though it had been an exceptionally busy day, I drove a car-load of family members around the streets of our town. For two and a half hours we drove up and down roads searching out the brightest, most illuminating lights on people’s houses and lawns. My eighty-six year old passenger in the back seat, wrapped in a blanket and clutching a mug of hot chocolate, smiled the whole time and asked me pull over and look at every light on every street. Two days later we took her into hospital and three weeks after that we lost her.
Doreen Clark was diagnosed with cancer when she was thirty years old. It was a form of cancer that took ninety-five percent of its victims. She beat it. In the following fifty-six years she lost a kidney, suffered heart failure, lost the ability to walk without a walker and overcame it all. She beat everything that was thrown at her. Some people are resilient, she was more than that. She was unbreakable.
She had seven children. I share my life with Jacquie, her youngest. Her other kids, kids who are in their fifties and sixties, yet still she’d refer to them as her kids, are spread across Canada, almost from coast to coast. She lived in Ontario, in eastern Canada until three years ago. Her health had deteriorated to the point where it looked as though she wouldn’t last more than a few weeks, so Jacquie and I made a decision – a big one. We moved her mother from her home in Cobourg, Ontario to live with us on the west coast in British Columbia. With her doctor’s blessing we took her on a one way trip, and the three of us lived together for two years.
She had her own suite in our home and like any group of people who live together we saw each other at our best and our worst. When I was home writing while Jacquie was at work, I’d visit her downstairs, and take her lunch, or help with her medication, or I’d make an excuse to have a break and spend some time talking to her. She had a tight, little smile and a life in her eyes that I’d never seen before. Seven adventurous children, the loss of her husband many years ago, and every ailment that could be thrown at her, but still she had that glimmer, that life.
During her last hospital stay the doctors gave us conflicting reports as her prognosis changed daily. One day a specialist optimistically encouraged us to make an appointment with him in his clinic once she was released and on another day a doctor immediately spoke of palliative care. Jacquie and I would sit in the darkness of her hospital room after she’d fallen asleep and smile at each other and wish her back to health, picturing her just a few days earlier as she sat at the Christmas table holding out her plate for a second helping. Or, we’d look at each other with tears in our eyes silently asking how we were going to manage without her.
There was almost no offer you could make to her that she would decline. She took train trips, attended concerts, and had more favorite restaurants than the most cultured foodies. She wanted to see a Disney skating show so her family procured front row seats for her, her wheelchair, and Jacquie. When she was unable to attend a function where the house had a set of stairs we carried her up on a kitchen chair. She took a spill one night on her way to the bathroom. She was slightly bruised and disoriented and a little embarrassed. We picked her up and Jacquie spent the remainder of the night with her. When morning arrived a few hours later she told us she would still be honoring a commitment and attending a gathering that day. And, she did.
As we look back at the pictures from those two years and see her eating ice cream or smiling at the performers or relaxing in a lawn chair it’s easy to see what she wanted. She wanted to live. When her aches and pains became too much a darkness sometimes came over her, but at the end of the day when she was asleep, Jacquie would tell me that tomorrow we start over. It’ll be a new day no matter how dark this one has been. And, we did. We lived with that in mind. I learned from both of them that there is no room for holding on to resentments when your goal is to live – they just get in the way of living.
During our pilgrimage last year to view the Christmas lights, I drove slowly and from time to time we stopped and looked at the displays. She was probably in pain at that point and in just over three weeks she’d slip away from us, but she never showed it. The life in her eyes kept glowing and she never stopped smiling. She teased me that she was going to buy a huge blow-up Santa Claus and make me place it on our own front lawn the following year. I told her I’d do it. It would not be a problem.
The next day – her last full day at home before we took her into hospital she had trouble catching her breath. I sat with her quietly and watched, willing the breath to stay with her. And, for that one day, it did. She told me it frightened her, and I’d never seen her frightened before. As I was walking away from her after she regained her breath she said a few words that I’ll keep with me forever. They’d mean nothing to you but to me they said everything about the relationship I had with her. That’s how I’m going to remember her – the woman with the glimmer of life in her eyes who wanted to see every light on every street.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
I’ve been proud to participate in our second 12 Blogs of Christmas event. Please check out the talented author’s articles that preceded me: