Thursday, December 15, 2011

Death At Christmas

My husband’s Uncle Jack died early Monday morning. He was the husband of John’s father’s younger sister, whom I met once when we stayed at their house on the west coast on our way to Alaska for a cruise. They were extremely hospitable to us and we enjoyed our visit. Aunt Mary’s cooking was better than anything we had on the cruise.

Uncle Jack had been ill for over a year. It started with anemia from internal bleeding, which led to a stroke. He never recovered entirely, and had a series of mini-strokes until he finally lapsed into a semi-comatose state and stopped eating. His health directive ruled out tube feeding, and in a few days he was gone. The immediate family is having a small, private memorial service, so we sent flowers and a letter of condolence, feeling that sense of helplessness you do when you are far away and can’t be of any practical use.

Uncle Jack’s death reminded me of other deaths my family has had at Christmas. When I was nine my Grandma L, my stepmom’s mother, died of kidney disease after a long illness.  (Since she was a Grandma, she seemed very old to me, but was really not even 60 years old when she died.) We took down the tree the day after Christmas that year, but thereafter my mom did her best to make every Christmas festive for us. She’s the one who set the example I follow of decorating everything in the house that can’t actually move out of the way. She also baked cookies (the rest of the year she wasn’t much of a baker) and prepared special dishes for days in advance. Each year mom would complain that she hadn’t been able to get us much for Christmas, but I was always pleased with my gifts, and looking back, I appreciate that she did not let Christmas become a sad time of the year for the whole family when I know she missed her mother very much.

Not quite ten years ago my godfather died the day before Christmas Eve, from a fall down the basement stairs. He was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was not supposed to go near the stairs, but probably forgot. I wanted to go to Ohio for the funeral, but a snowstorm was moving in and my godmother pleaded with me not to. I didn’t want to add to her worries, so once again, we sent flowers and our sympathy. 

I know that people die every day, and that some of those deaths will be at Christmas, just as some will be on some otherwise nondescript day in mid-August. The absence of our loved ones is no less felt at Christmas because their deaths occurred at another time of year. Still, when I hear of a death at this time of year, the little kid part of me wants to holler, “That’s not fair.” People should live to see one last Christmas.


  1. Condolences to you and your husband.

    My father died a few years ago in the early hours of New Year's Day. (The family found a certain black humor in the idea that, as a retired accountant, he'd been aiming to close out the tax year neatly -- he always was a very organized man-- but overshot by a few hours.)

    We weren't there at the time, we live in another state, so the call from my sister that usually began with "Happy New Year" had an entirely different burden that year. And I know what you mean, it didn't seem fair to hear those words being thrown around, when he'd never see another new year at all.

    But at least he'd had his one last Christmas. And at least we'd talked to him then and visited not too long before that.

  2. Thank you, Amaryllis. It's amazing how comforting those moments of black humor can be. I think the things we laugh over are the quirks that made the people we loved most themselves, and that's what we want to remember.