Delivering Christmas

A few weeks ago a request for donations crossed my path on Facebook.  I use social media for fundraising, so it caught my eye.  Cal’s All Star Angel Foundation, a charity focused on making life for kids with cancer better, was seeking donations for its 12 Days of Christmas program.

For the past three years, the charity has “delivered” Christmas to seriously and terminally ill children treated at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.  This involves gifts for the diagnosed child, and for each of their siblings as well.  Then there is homemade Christmas cookies, a gingerbread house, and finally a gift card for a local grocery story so the family can have a special dinner catered, or shop for themselves, whichever they prefer.

What a great idea, I thought.

Our girl was diagnosed in 2007 and that year we spent the entire holiday season in the hospital, Donna recovering from her stem cell transplant.  We walked in the door December 4 and Donna was not discharged until January 4.  Christmas was not something we worried about that year.

In 2008, we brought Donna to the ER on Christmas Eve morning with listlessness and a fever.  She checked out fine when we got there, no infection, so we went home.  On Christmas Day, she was listless, and vomiting.  No family celebration.  We called the docs and because there was no fever, we got permission to stay home for the holiday.  By 6 AM on the 26th we were back in the ER, Donna ashen and unresponsive and now had a fever.  She had dangerously low levels of carbon dioxide in her blood and was diagnosed with RSV, a sometimes fatal cold strain for infants and immuno-suppressed children.  Poor Mary Tyler Son’s due date was days away.  Yeah, that was not much of a Christmas either.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it would be Donna’s last one.

When I saw’s the 12 Days of Christmas program, I felt in my bones how worthwhile an initiative it was.  Kids with cancer get lots of toys and extras because of their illness, it’s true, but to take the responsibility of Christmas from a family who is burdened with bills, stress, fear, and terror.  Yeah, that is a good thing.

I put the word out on Facebook and within a 24 hour period, Donna’s Good Things had collected $1,399.00 to support Cal’s 12 Days.  It really does feel good to do good.  I dropped off the check with Cal’s Dad and Step-Mom who run the charity.  In return, they asked if my family would like to be one of the volunteer families to “deliver” Christmas.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

My first reaction was a bit of panic.  To go into a home where there is a child who is seriously or terminally ill feels a bit like walking into the lion’s den to us.  It is hard.  Hard.  We said yes.

The first child we were paired with was a little 7 year old girl with a brain tumor.  There was a three year old brother, too.  Just like my family.  Deep breath in, deep breath out.  Unfortunately, that little girl’s health took a turn and she died.  Just like that, folks.  Cancer does not care if it is Christmas time.  I hold that family close in my thoughts.

In the end, we were paired with a different family.  One little girl who loved all things purple and pink.  Mary Tyler Son came down with a cough, so he was out.  Mary Tyler Dad had to work, so he was out.  Just me, walking into that lion’s den alone.

The thing is, the lion’s den is a familiar place to me.  I’ve been there before and once you’ve been there, you never forget it.  I wrapped this girl’s gifts special, finding pink and purple glitter wrapping paper and a pink snowflake for flair.  Go big, you know?  When you’re 9, more is always more.  I wrapped those gifts with love.  She felt like my own girl and I wanted everything to be perfect for her.

Christmas Gifts

When I pulled up, I saw her peeking through the curtain.  She bounded out of the house to greet me.  She had a beautiful smile.  Really gorgeous.  And shiny eyes.  She invited me into her home where I met her Mom and Dad and Grandmother.  I sat at their table and visited as their beautiful girl opened her gifts.  Love, love, love.  Nothing but love.

It turns out, that lion’s den wasn’t so bad after all.

Thank you to all the generous donors who made our donation possible.  Thank you to Cal’s All Star Angel Foundation for all the incredible programming and wish granting you do.  Thank you to the family that opened their door to a stranger bearing gifts.  I choose hope for that beautiful girl and wish her the Merriest of Christmases.  Many, many Merry Christmases.

Sr. Iphielya: Oy Vey, Christmas Can Be Difficult

Sr. Iphielya
Hello, there.  I’m just getting the hang of this email and, oh my, there is a lot to learn.  So many buttons!

Well, it seems there are more than a few of you out there that could stand a little more empathy and understanding in your lives.  Sr. Iphielya is here and in the motherhouse, so let’s spend a few moments together, shall we?

I received many, many letters since I made my debut on Mary Tyler Mom last week.  I love her, don’t you?  Such a nice lady.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, the letters.  I do wish to respond to all of them, and I will, but it will take some time, please.  Single file will do nicely.

Christmas is just around the corner.  Seven days and counting, my friends!  This time of year is difficult for many of us.  So much to do, so little $ to do it with, so many dramas with the family, and lots and lots of deep seated feelings of grief and loss bubbling up to the surface.  In the convent, I learned that efficiency is a virtue, so I am going to try and address two letters with one post!

During this season of joy, merriment, family and office gatherings, many of our hearts hang heavy with the things we don’t have, but wish we did.  For some, it is toys for the little ones.  For others it is that little one — the little baby we wish to hold and call our own.  And for others still, it is the one who held us when we were babies.

The holiday season often means we spend lots and lots of time with cookies and cousins.  There is small talk and good cheer, but there is also forced cheer.  You know what I mean, don’t you?  That gathering where all together are doing their level best to ignore the sadness that is shared, but so often not discussed.  One of my letter writers wrote to me in hopes of finding another mother, as she had lost her own this past summer.  Oh, dear.  Losing a mother is hard.  I know this myself.  For those of us lucky ones, our mothers were all they should be.  They loved and cared for us, cheered us up, prodded us, poked us when needed, and held us when things weren’t going too well.  There is no other soul that does quite what a mother does for us, is there?

If you’ve lost your mom, these holidays of family and cheer can be difficult.  And as hard as Christmas Day will be, Mother’s Day will hurt you, too.  I like to think that the holidays turn up the volume of our hearts.  All that we feel is just a little more intense this time of year.  And that first year?  That first year when your mother won’t be baking the cookies, wrapping the gifts, encouraging her flock to behave as they should — that is one of the hardest of all.

I’ve some words of advice for you.  Nuns always do, you know, have words of advice.  I do hope you will consider them in the spirit in which they are offered — with love and empathy.  Consider remembering your Mom that day.  Be it with the green and radish Jell-o mold you told me about, or with a toast before the feast.  Talk about her.  Mention her name.  Acknowledge that she is missed.  If tears are shed, offer a Kleenex.  There is no shame in a tear being shed for a loved one gone before us.  We miss them.  It’s okay to talk about that.

Other gatherings may include a loss that is more personal.  Like for the reader who shared the difficulty of infertility.  Unlike losing a mom, a grown adult who all recognize and miss when gone, the loss of a child through miscarriage, or even the idea of a child, the desire of a child, is not always as well recognized.  People don’t understand it, do they?  There is no great way to grieve that loss publicly, or even with others you may be close to.  I might suggest, when the well intentioned (one hopes) comments come about, as they most certainly will, you act as a duck and let that water roll off your back.  Talk to your partner about your pain.  He, or she (it is the 21st century, even for us nuns), will understand in a way others will not.  Or, at least, I hope they will.  I suppose even your partners don’t always understand that pain.

My point is, dear one, is that the insensitive comments you receive are uneducated, but not malicious.  They want for you what you want, these folks free with the advice, and think their comments might just help.  You know and I know they do not.  This week of celebrations will no doubt provide ample opportunity for the “well intentioned” in your life to trot out their advice for you.  They don’t want to know of your medical difficulty.  They just don’t.  They want you to have a child, because they know you want one.  It is sad, to be sure, but I believe it is true.

Harsh, perhaps.  I am sorry for that.  I know from experience the holidays can be brutal.  Sr. Iphielya wants to prepare you for that brutality.  Arm you with some coping skills that will help you get through the day.  Some years, that is the best we can hope for, right?  Get though the day.  I assure you that come January, that volume on your feelings will eek down just a bit.  You will feel a little more yourself and less vulnerable.  I do hope so for you.

Alrighty, dear ones!  Sr. Iphielya is being called to mediate a squabble over who will peel the potatoes and who will mash the potatoes for Sunday dinner.  Please do take care of yourself this holiday season.  And remember, the motherhouse is just an email away!



Thanksgiving: Wherefore art thou?

Thanksgiving Turkey 

I’m cranky.  (Ha!  The seed of all great blog posts.) 

Yes, Imma cranky.  Next week is Thanksgiving.  You remember Thanksgiving, don’t you?  That most bountiful of holidays sandwiched in between the  more commercial blockbusters of Halloween and Christmas.  It seems to have left the building these days. 

Last night Mary Tyler Son and I were walking home from the babysitter when he squealed loudly at the sight of Christmas lights.  He ran ahead to get a better look.  We’ve barely made a dent in his Halloween bag of treats and it’s already time for Christmas.  NO. 

Let’s all decide to put the NO back in November:  NO to premature Christmas.  NO to Christmas music that makes my ears bleed if I hear it before December 1.  NO to holiday sweaters on the racks.  NO to candy canes.  NO to lights on the trees.  NO to Santa Claus.  NO to retailers opening their doors on Thanksgiving, not even having the decency to wait until 3 freaking a.m.  NO.

Truth be told, I hate November.  A few of my facebook friends have waxed poetic about the merits of this month.  “Oh, look, I can see the cranes!”  “I just love the November light . . .”  Are you kidding me?  November sucks.  It is the purgatory of our calendar year.  It is not autumn.  It is not winter.  It just sits there with an ominous foreboding of what is to come in the next twelve weeks.  Old Man Winter is gonna have his way with us here in Chicago and November is his foreplay. 

This month has one thing going for it:  Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving I like.  Wonderful food, wonderful excuse for a day off.  Wonderful opportunity to think about what you have, even when you don’t have much, and feel grateful for it.  The movies start getting better.  I get to applaud the St. Jude Research Hospital “Thanks and Giving” campaign.  You know the one, where they show the bald kids before every movie?  The one where you are encouraged to give thanks for the healthy kids in your life?  The one that makes every Cancer Parent I know cringe?  I have a fantasy where I stand up at the end of that commercial in the darkened theater and shout, “I lost my bald child to pediatric cancer — it happens and it’s real!”  See?  Thanksgiving even makes me grateful for ad campaigns that feature sick children.  It is a holiday I don’t feel oppressed by.  I heart Thanksgiving.

Except it is vanishing.

Last week I went to Kohl’s after dinner.  I was feeling inspired and truly believed I needed a ceramic turkey.  Kind of rustic looking with a retro vibe.  I was certain Kohl’s would have it, and have it at 50% off.  Kohl’s is the most middle-aged of stores, so of course they would have a ceramic turkey.  I walked to that odd section that carries things the middle-aged housefrau likes, and my jaw dropped.  There were a dozen fiberglass pumpkins with clearance tags and row after row of Christmas ephemera.  Crap really.  Snowflakes and ornaments and Santas and jingle bells and angels.  This was November 8, people.  NOvember 8. 

I meandered to the table linen department — yes, more confirmation I am aging — and saw this pattern duplicated with fabric.  A heap of pumpkins on clearance and aisles and aisles of holiday textile cheer.  Bah humbug.  I mean, it’s not as if I missed the Thanksgiving items.  There wasn’t a run on that desired ceramic turkey.  It just didn’t exist.  There were two gals kvetching about the same thing a row over — “I mean, it’s like we go straight from Halloween to Chrismas!”  Word, sister. 

I am on a personal mission to restore Thanksgiving to its rightful place.  Are you with me?  Repeat after me: 

  • I will be grateful, dammit 
  • I will not kowtow to the consumer gods 
  • I will give Thanksgiving its proper due
  • I will teach my kids about Pilgrims and harvesting
  • I will add root vegetables to my diet
  • I will fondly remember the Brady Bunch episode with Alice gnawing her way through an ear of corn
  • I will put the NO back in November

I say YES to Thanksgiving.  I say YES to gratitude.  I say YES to making my relatives feel uncomfortable when they sit at our Thanksgiving table and are required to articulate what they are grateful for this year (consider yourselves warned, dear family).  I say YES to turkey.  I say YES to Thanksgiving. 

Thank you.