“Husband out,” the doctor said, without looking at either of us.
“I’d like him to stay,” I said, clutching Alan’s hand.
So Alan left the room.
I was 9 1/2 weeks pregnant, which the specialist had assured me took me past the danger zone. “If you can get to 9 weeks,” he had said, “chances are you’ll go the distance.” But I had started spotting that morning and through the day it had gotten worse. So, on Christmas Eve, ho ho ho, we were in the emergency room of our local hospital seeing what was what.
“It’s just a bit of spotting,” the doctor told me. “Go home and stop worrying.”
So we went home. And the next day, Christmas Day, the spotting turned into a bleed and we called the specialist who agreed to meet us at another hospital emergency room. And this time he didn’t tell me I was worrying for nothing. He admitted me and through the long Christmas night, the bleeding got worse and in the morning he scheduled a D and C.
I remember lying on a gurney in the basement of the hospital, trying not to cry because that’s how my parents raised me. Crying was what you did at home, where no one could see you. A nurse walked by and as she passed, she reached out and gave my toes a little squeeze. I never even saw her face, but if you work in the health professions at all and you wonder if what you do makes a difference? More than thirty years later I still remember that simple act kindness. So, yeah, what you do changes lives.
And actually, that wasn’t our worst Christmas, though that was more than bad enough.
I’ve left out the part where Alan and I both came down with tummy bugs and ended up sleeping on the sofa-bed in our living room because I wasn’t supposed to take the stairs plus we needed the quickest possible access to the bathroom for reasons I won’t describe but I know you can all imagine.
And we volunteered to cook capons for my family’s Christmas reunion and poor Alan would get up and do a bit of work on them, turn absolutely green and then come back to bed and pass out next to me and isn’t that romantic?
And Eileen was staying with us and I was so far beyond being able to show her a good time that my Mum came and got her. And could you do us one more favour? Please cook the birds at your house, because that delicious smell? Is the worst thing ever right now.
And then a few years later, when Eileen was dying, the same year my Dad had prostate cancer because in this life the stuff that comes at you does not take turns, we went down to Windsor for Christmas. And when we got there after our four hour drive from Toronto after Alan had worked all day, my Mum announced that she and my Dad had pre-planned and pre-paid their funerals and they needed us to know their final wishes.
I did ask if we could wait awhile on this one, it being Christmas Eve and all, but once Mum got an idea in her head, she was pretty much unstoppable. So we sat there, sipping sherry and eating fruitcake, talking about cremation and burial plots.
And the next day, we went to see Eileen and that was pretty grim and I cried my guts out on the 45 minute drive from where she was staying to Alan’s parents’ house where we were due for a festive family dinner.
And then two years later, after Eileen died the previous Spring, because my family is made up of fighters and when you think they haven’t got anything left in them they surprise everyone and hang on awhile longer, Alan and I were invited to friends’ on Christmas Eve because they knew we were feeling low and that was really lovely of them. And if you know someone who’s lost someone or in some way has had a bad year and will be alone for the holidays, inviting them for dinner is a kindness that will make up for years of bad behaviour.
We got home and went to bed and after Alan went to sleep, I got up and tiptoed downstairs to the living room where I cried my guts out until dawn. Because my mother raised me to never bother my husband with pesky details like heart-broken grief. We’re getting past that lesson, thankfully. I have strict instructions from the man himself to wake him if I’m feeling sad in the night and sometimes, I actually do.
Christmas is not always magic and joy. Tragedy and grief do not follow a calendar. And if you’re not in sync with this Festive Season, know that I, for one, understand.
Know also that time passes. Hearts heal and the magic, tempered by your sorrow, will return.
All the best to you my friends. Thank you for being with me on this journey.