Christmas 1986 was a celebration like no other.
Home for Christmas
By Donna Lowich
It was almost Christmas 1986. We had just passed the one-year anniversary of my two spinal cord surgeries. I had been home since June, following six weeks in the hospital and six months at the rehabilitation center, and continued to work with my physical therapist at home five days a week.
I was in the living room, sitting with my five-year-old son, Jeffrey, who was trying to help me walk the length of the sofa.
“C’mon, Mommy. You can do it.” Jeffrey looked at me, his eyes giving me the confidence that I lacked in myself. Still, I hesitated, but he repeated, “You can do it, Mommy.” He continued with words that revealed a wisdom well beyond his years: “You can do it if you believe in yourself.”
He grabbed my hands and tugged at me to get me to stand up. He was sure I could do it; I wasn’t quite as sure as he was, but I had to try. He wanted me to be whole again. So did I, especially at this time of year, for Christmas had always held a special meaning for me. It was my favorite time of year.
So, here we were on this Friday evening, Jeffrey and I. He held my hands, his chocolate-brown eyes shining with excitement. “C’mon, Mommy, you’ve got to try.” He tugged at my hands again with both of his. “I’ll help you.”
Christmas last year was not even a memory for me. As I recovered, I realized the loss of not seeing Jeffrey’s face light up as he opened his presents on Christmas morning, and of simply not being there for him. I was determined to make up for that loss this year. I wanted this to be a happy Christmas for all of us. Maybe this was the beginning of that process.
After a couple of faulty attempts, I stood up. Still holding on to Jeffrey’s hands, I made some awkward and shuffled steps away from the safety of my chair. Slowly, slowly, we walked the length of the sofa before I lost my balance and collapsed on to the edge of its arm.
I was filled with a mix of emotions. I was happy that I had tried, but still disappointed beyond words that I made it no further than the length of the couch. But, little Jeffrey saw it differently. He threw his little arms around me. “See? I told you that you could do it, Mommy! You did it! You did it! Yay, Mommy!” I smiled despite myself. He was so happy, he was hopping up and down in front of me!
I hugged him back, telling him, “You always help me do things better, don’t you?” I smiled at Jeffrey. Despite all that might be swirling around me, he always made me smile.
When my husband, Walter, came home, Jeffrey and I told him what had just happened. Smiling, but with tears in his eyes, he suggested, “Why don’t we all go out tomorrow morning and buy our Christmas tree?”
“Will it be a big tree this year, Daddy?” Jeffrey asked.
Walter scooped Jeffrey up in his arms. “It certainly will be! How about if we see who can find the biggest tree for us to buy?”
Jeffrey smiled and sang out, “Yay, Mommy! Yay, Daddy!”
The big Christmas tree was to make up for the small tabletop tree Walter had put together quickly just the year before, so Jeffrey would have something resembling a Christmas. Walter apologized, “I know it was not enough, but it was all I could manage…”
Just a week after our walk along the sofa, Jeffrey was singing and dancing around the large, festive Christmas tree that graced our living room. I got up slowly from my chair and made my way to the stairs. Jeffrey stopped singing.I knew he was watching me as I started to climb the steps with some difficulty. I turned, and there he was right next to me. He was always there when I needed him.
Once again, he clutched my hand. Looking directly at me, he said, “Sometimes I wish it was me…”
“Oh, no, Jeffrey, no!” is all I could manage to say before he began to speak again.
“If it was me," he insisted, “you could carry me up the stairs.” Now his eyes filled with tears. He looked down at the floor, whispering, “I can’t carry you.”
I sat on the steps and we hugged. I hugged him because he had just taught me that it wasn’t important that I couldn’t walk very far or that I had to do things differently now. The important thing was that I had been given the chance to be home with my family at Christmas. I realized then that I was given so much more than was ever taken away. That was, and is, Jeffrey’s gift to me, wrapped in the beauty of a little boy's unconditional love for his mom.
I looked over at the Christmas tree. The lights twinkled and gave a soft glow to that corner of the room. It looked the same yet it seemed so different now. It was always the symbol of peace and beauty of the Christmas season, but now it reminded me of the importance of family and of home. Now, the tree absolutely radiated love--love of family, love of life itself. It was there all the time; I just needed the love and selflessness of a five-year-old boy to teach me that lesson, and to know that I was home, truly home for Christmas.