This will be my first Christmas as an orphan.
Our Christmas celebrations, not to mention our lives, changed drastically after my dad passed away 3 years ago.
Instead of taking a road trip to Houston and gathering with siblings and kids in my childhood home to celebrate, TG and I took a one-day road trip to Houston on Christmas Eve day, moved my mom out of the nursing home there, and headed back to Austin.
Mama spent that first Christmas Day without Daddy at our house before I deposited her at the nursing home near us that evening.
It was so tough to leave her there. She was confused and upset. But I anticipated bringing her to the house for frequent visits. Tom even built wheelchair ramps for the doors and walkways.
However, way before Christmas came around again, she had lost so much muscle strength we couldn't even get her into my car. So we visited her in her room that next Christmas Day after Daddy's passing.
She could barely stay awake and looked awful - she had been in bed all day, the aides said - so this is the photo I took...
By the next year, her health had deteriorated even more, but she was happy to see us. Of course, her eyes always soaked us up like bread on gravy every time she saw us.
I think she knew it would probably be her last Christmas here on earth.
I feared it was, as well.
When we first moved her closer to us, I never expected her to go downhill so fast. I kept expecting her to get better... if she would just try a little harder! Do the exercises physical therapy showed her. Work her crossword puzzles. Participate in the games and activities the nursing home always provided.
Sometime during her last year, my eyes cleared. It was obvious her condition was going to deteriorate no matter what she or I did.
She was making the most of the life she had left by keeping a good attitude. The least I could do was get off her back and appreciate her and our time together. As much as it hurt, I had to accept the fact that Mama couldn't live forever.
So I stopped nagging and relaxed. I held her hand more, trimmed her nails, brushed her hair. When I pushed her wheelchair, I always kissed the top of her head.
I would ask her questions about her life, tell her about my day, ask her advice, or we would just sit and enjoy old television shows together.
What I miss the most is getting her advice. She was a wise woman up until the very end, even if her memory got a little blurry at times.
I'll never be as wise as my mom, but here is a little advice for all of you who may be dealing with aging parents. I wrote this on her last birthday, but never published it for some reason.
I wish someone had told me this way back before I went through it, so here you go...
There were days it was tough to be with my mom, especially in that first year after Daddy died.
I admit that for all of you who are dealing with aging parents. Remember, they are going through a lot... perhaps physical pain, remorse and regret, loneliness, helplessness when they've always been the helpers, loss of privacy and independence and memory...
I really don't want to imagine how it must feel.
But if their words hurt you or make you angry (because they are going to lash out at the one who is there because they know you will love them anyway) it's okay to say "I have to leave," and then walk out.
Don't let them engage you in an argument. Don't try to defend yourself. Don't try to reason with them or use logic.
It won't work. Just leave.
But be sure to go back the next day, and act like nothing happened. Because they need you. They appreciate you. They really do.
And above all, they love you, as they always have.