In November 2008, I lost my mother after a brief, nine-week battle with cancer. Although losing her was a most heart-breaking experience, caring for her as she made her journey was surely one of the most rewarding and important work I have done.
I made it through Thanksgiving fairly well. It was just a single day, and our family went on auto-pilot. Looking back, it’s obvious that we were still in shock from losing our mother just two weeks prior.
But Christmas is a season, not just a day – and a season full of expectations of joy. That year, I just couldn’t find it. The tree I bought on impulse stood in the garage for two weeks before our son put it up hastily on Christmas Eve. We didn’t put up the elaborate lights on our deciduous trees, and even our neighbors mentioned that it didn’t seem like Christmas without them. The shopping and cooking were minimal. I spent most of my days working through my mother’s estate as executor, cleaning perishables out of her house, and struggling with the silence of a phone that had been ringing non-stop just weeks earlier.
Christmas morning came, and in typical fashion, our teen boys slept in until 10. I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for the computer. There, I found an email from my friend, Patricia. For years, she has sent out a poem on Christmas Day, and there it was.
I couldn’t have received a more fitting sentiment.
by Sean Lause
The day my mother dropped a net
of oranges on the kitchen table
and the net broke and oranges
rolled and we snatched them,
my brother and I,
peeled back the skin and bit deep
to make the juice explode with our laughter,
and my father spun one orange in his palm
and said quietly, “This was Christmas, 1938,”
said it without bitterness or anger,
just observing his life
from far away, this tiny world
cupped in one palm…
My mother was nine years old in 1938, living with an older brother on a dairy farm in upstate New York. The Depression had hit the community hard. My grandfather, whom I never met, lost two entire herds to disease, and the family was forced to take in boarders and raise turkeys to make ends meet. Oranges were a rare treat.
My mother always gave us oranges in our stockings, and I have continued this tradition in my own family. That Christmas, as my family unveiled the sole item in their stockings – an orange – I shared this poem with them, saying simply, “This is Christmas, 2008.”