*MGO stands for My Grief Observed. These are the posts I’m writing as I struggle with my dad’s death.
A year ago last Friday we had just arrived in town to celebrate Christmas with my family.
A year and two days ago my dad was admitted to the hospital. He had been having some unexplained symptoms for a month or so, but the doctors thought his problem was orthopedic or perhaps a pinched or damaged nerve. When he started throwing up while we were getting ready to go to church we knew that we were dealing with something much more serious. His family doctor agreed and told Dad to meet him at the ER. The neurologist at the hospital ordered an MRI of Dad’s brain and saw “something.” I think this was the first day that I Googled “brain tumor.”
A year ago yesterday my dad had surgery to remove the “something.” After his surgery, the neurosurgeon sat with my mom, my brother, and me, and I heard the words “glioblastoma multiforme” for the first time. I didn’t Google it that first day. Dr. Nanda had told me more than I wanted to know.
I don’t intend on keeping a morbid account of every anniversary of every step of the journey we’ve traveled this last year. I only mention them because when I stop and remember the chain of events, I can’t believe that only a little over a year ago, my life was so very different. I think about the me I was before cancer joined our family. I think about my family the way it was when my dad was here with us. So much is changed forever.
Several times I’ve wondered what I would have done differently if I’d known then what I known now. What would I say to the girl who was so excited about spending Christmas with her family? I’m not sure what I could have known that would have helped me navigate through the days that followed. Even had I known, I think I still would have had to “muddle through” last Christmas much like I’m muddling through this one. But we will muddle through.
Last Christmas my kids wrote a letter to Santa on Christmas Eve asking them to please deliver all of their presents to LSU hospital so their Papa could see them open them. And he did. We gathered together in a dreary, germy hospital room and had Christmas. I dug deep and overcame my avoidance of all things nasty and spread sheets on the floor for Santa to leave the loot. We traipsed over to the hospital in our pajamas Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. Precious friends brought us a Christmas dinner and we served it buffet style on the empty, extra bed in my dad’s room. Was it ideal? No. Was it surreal? Yes. Was it what we wanted? No. But we were together. And you know what? Perspective is everything. This year we’ll be in our comfortable home, but my dad won’t be there.
Call it making the best of a less than ideal situation. Say it’s doing what you can with what you’re given. Attribute it to choosing to be happy when it doesn’t come naturally. But the fact of the matter was that Christmas came whether we were ready for it or not. It’s coming again this year whether we’re ready for it or not. And once again, we’ll all dig deep and count it all joy even when we don’t feel particularly joyful.
You know, that first Christmas didn’t seem ideal from our vantage point. Who wants to have a baby in a barn in the middle of a road trip? But I know that this Christmas, like every Christmas, like every day we live, has been written for us before we were ever born. Some days may seem like chaos or bad planning or just unfair, but I believe that God is intentional about every day he purposes for us to live.
I can’t go back and tell “the me that was” what to do, but I can offer you a word from someone who’s been to dark places this year. As you gather around your Christmas trees this year, look around at the precious faces of the people you love. I know many of you will be missing people you love like we will be, but make the most of the moments you have with the ones who are with you. Say what you need to say and don’t miss out on the opportunities of togetherness that this season affords.
And if your Christmas is “less than ideal”? If you burn the pie crust or can’t find a Zhu Zhu pet in time…if you don’t get a decent picture of everyone around the tree because someone always has his eyes closed….if the “assembly required” takes all night and you don’t get any sleep on Christmas eve….if you didn’t get every corner of your house decorated perfectly…if you run out of Scotch tape before you run out of presents to wrap…..if you can’t be with the ones you love this year……dig deep and muddle through. Be intentional about what matters and let go of the rest. Search as if for treasure to find the peace and promise of Christmas that can only be found in the One we are celebrating.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.