The Great Gift Mom Gave to Me

On this first Christmas without mom, who passed away nearly five months ago, there is little pause for reflection. Flu symptoms started on December 20; today is the first in five where fever dropped below 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 F); 38.9 C (102 F) was frequent. My core body temp tends to be below normal (36.1 C; 97 F), which (I hope) explains why low-grade fevers are so debilitating. I let the blog auto-post several entries to my “Cats of University Heights” series, which is one reason there are so many uninterrupted.

There is little sentimental about this December 25. My wife finally succumbed to the flu by Christmas Eve; we steered our daughter away from the quarantine household. She is in Northern California with a friend’s family, and looks like she feels out of place, too. We’re here, as is her bag of presents, and she celebrates without mom and dad but with the loss of two grandparents. My father-in-law passed away Jan. 11, 2017. He already was in desperate decline last Christmas Day; I can’t imagine the dire circumstance if Anne and I were this bedridden then, when he needed so much assistance. 

My daily routine is a shambles. I tend to walk at least 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) daily. Eating. Writing. Photography. Everything is disrupted. But timing at the end of the year is an opportunity, too. To reassess. To consider new habits with the New Year. To appreciate. I have taken good health for granted for so long—as I so rarely am overcome by any bug. To remember others, less fortunate. I have been cocooning in my sleeping bag on the spare bed. Shivering from fever, I wondered about people who are homeless this holiday, sleeping outside in the chill night air. Now, there are someones for which there is too little to be sentimental about.

Shivering in my sleeping bag, I thought of my mommy. Doesn’t everyone when distressed? The Christmases she was there—metaphorical moments of sentimentality that encapsulate the good mother who is loving and reliable every day of every year. I hope every homeless person, everyone separated from family or home, has a mother they can remember fondly—and know that they were loved. I can only hope.

Drifting in and out of fever dreams, I remembered, repeatedly, a Christmas present that gave so much it embarrassed me. Fifty years ago this day, eight-year-old Joe Wilcox received a portable phonograph player with an album of Snoopy songs by The Royal Guardsmen. I remember playing “Snoopy’s Christmas” over and over and over again. “Christmas bells those Christmas bells, ringing through the land, asking peace of all the world, and good will to man”. I couldn’t listen enough. Hehe, watch and listen.

Funny. I am reminded how much we change from adolescence to teenagers (or close to being one). Four Christmases later, the coveted album was Jesus Christ Superstar, which I played constantly. Mom more than once asked if I hadn’t tired of listening (because she had). She would have been around 30 years old and still young enough to appreciate the genre. We would never share musical tastes, sadly. When I was a youngster, she preferred the likes of Loretta Lynn and other country music artists.

There had to be a first Christmas without mom, even though we celebrated far from one another, across coasts. The same is true of Anne’s dad. So much of the holiday was for our daughter and for him. She was his only grandchild. In our home, three generations gathered on a day that celebrates the birth of a special son. But this year feels like the Christmas without Christmas. My daughter isn’t here, and my father-in-law is gone forever. Anne and I are too sick to celebrate.

But that’s okay. I feel grateful, and for the first time there is understanding why. I easily appreciate circumstances and my general state of mind is optimistic. In my fever dreams, with hours of distraction-free self-reflection inside my sleeping bag cocoon, thinking about mom’s passing, I realized something so obvious it had been long ignored for being fabric of my being.

I didn’t always agree with mom, but I never doubted her. I trusted her. Unquestionably. She was genuine and loving towards her children. She set an unflappable and unstoppable example. Even during some depressed years following the divorce, she was a make-things-happen trooper. She put others first.

What is the most important ingredient of any relationship? Love, right? Wrong. It’s trust, which is the expression of love as a relationship. Particularly, between parent and child, trust—whether love, judgement, or behavior—is core to developing sense of identity, independence, and self-esteem. The root of the tree of my life began in her womb. Trust is the trunk. I can look back on the tree of our intertwined lives, fondly, and know that her love was pure.

That’s the great gift my mother gave to me.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk (“You are Not Alone”)