It's Christmas Eve and feelings of happiness that Don's aorta aneurysm surgery was successful are intermingled with fleeting feelings of fear and sadness. Fear of a future filled with loneliness should Don, at some point, cease to be before my time on earth has ended. Sad at past loses and flowing tears.
I left the hospital today, came home to an arthritic dog with cataract encrusted eyes and he reminded me even more of how fragile life can be. Don, the dog and going back and forth to the hospital couldn't help but bring ghosts of another holiday season not so long ago when I held my dad's hand at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve and shortly afterwards he ceased to be. Dead while the rest of the world rollicked in colorful wrapping paper and ribbons. Dead while shiny stars stood tall on the tops of twinkling trees and gazed down on laughing children who were too young to understand or care about the pain in my heart.
I had no Christmas spirit this year. No cards went out. Short of a wreath on the front door, no decorations shouted out their joy around our house. I barely was able to open greeting cards that arrived in the mailbox. I felt guilty cheating Don out of the traditions we've carved out for ourselves, living here these past few years since his stroke. But buried deep in the corner of my mind was the fear that Don would die or be forever lost in the maze of disabilities that would finally put him in a nursing home. It was a secret I couldn't share that I knew I couldn’t have come home, if the worst had happened, to a house with Christmas decor. It would have mocked me for being so presumptuous that Don would beat the odds once again. And it would have forever sealed the association of tinsel and boughs of holly with death. But the worst didn't happen and I am grateful that in a few days I'll no longer have to look across the empty space that Don usually occupies beside me in the bedroom.
The dog is doing what dogs do---begging for treats and his little toenails clicking on the Linoleum keeps the fear of the future and the sadness of the past at bay as I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the umpteenth time in my life. That old black and white movie with James Stewart and Donna Reed is Don's favorite Christmas film. It seems quite appropriate as I end this essay that I should hear Clarence, the angel-in-training, sum up the entire message of the film in two sentences: "Each man's life touches so many others' lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he."
Jean Riva ©