A Bittersweet Week
Christmas is coming. The carols are playing...everywhere. We're making cookies. There are pageants and parties and concerts. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. We'll gather with family this weekend. We'll attend a candlelight service. Santa will come. Gifts will be exchanged.
We'll enjoy all of those moments, but with a unique perspective.
Fourteen years ago we spent this week at a children's hospital. We'd been helicoptered there on December 21st with a very sick baby. We spent the night in the ICU and the week at the hospital. We spent the week grateful for life, knowing that our baby had been treated just in the nick of time. We spent the week scared and overwhelmed by the ways our world had changed with the diagnosis of diabetes. We spent the week surrounded by other hospitalized families, some of whom were not expecting as happy an ending as we had been granted.
The experience has forever added a bittersweet thread to our family's Christmas week.
This year's first tears came while I watched my daughter narrate the Christmas pageant on Sunday. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that she was there at all. The specter of what could have happened if we'd waited even hours more to take her to the emergency room lingers a little closer during this season. Hearing her beautiful voice and watching her smile at the little angels scampering down the aisle stood in stark contrast to what might have been.
I'll tear up when we sing 'Away in a Manger' at the candlelight service. I sang it hundreds of times to calm my baby in her hospital crib. I'll skip wearing mascara to the school holiday concert, and take a few deep breaths when I unbox a Christmas decoration we were given in the hospital fourteen years ago. I'll experience a flood of empathy when I encounter or hear about people who are spending this Christmas in a hospital, or in a shelter, or who are grieving or afraid this season.
The thread of Christmas 2002 runs through all of our future Christmases. While it's not a thread I would have chosen to weave into our family's story, it has added a depth of meaning to all of the Christmases that have followed. The thread reminds us that at the core of this season's stories there is light and hope despite the apparent darkness and despair. As I wrote to conclude the first post I ever wrote for this blog:
My daughter’s second Christmas, when we sat together in the cafeteria of the children’s hospital eating prime rib off of Styrofoam plates, remains one of my favorite Christmases ever. Despite all that we had lost in the preceding days, we had each other, we had the power of modern medicine, and we had hope.