My Dad is currently in hospital. He has been there since Saturday, when he was admitted following significant abdominal pains, swelling in his limbs, high temperature and other symptoms I won’t go into. It all happened very suddenly. He will be ok, as it doesn’t seem to be anything ominous, and the various antibiotics he is on are starting to work. It looks like he will be able to come home in a few days. So things could be a lot worse. But it hasn’t been pleasant.
I haven’t had to write about my parents being unwell before. I’m fortunate I have very healthy parents. Although, as we all do, they have been unwell from time to time, these illnesses have generally been mild. Both have had bouts of cancer, but they were the types that can be (and were) detected early. Several years on, both are still completely clear. All good.
And not only do I have healthy parents, I have a healthy grandmother. We were preparing a little get together tomorrow to celebrate her 102 birthday (‘not too much fuss, dear’), as she is still very much alert and active (albeit now with a walking frame). That’s been put on hold for a few days, given the circumstances.
We’re actually in the month of birthdays, particularly clustered around this end of the week. We went out for dinner last night for my husband’s birthday, which is today. It is also my niece’s (with one year of school under her belt, she is so far from being ‘baby Lucy’ any more). My sister in law’s 50th birthday is tomorrow – a family get together to celebrate. Yes, she shares the date with Granny, and one of my closest friends (lunch, potentially). And so it goes. We’re also waiting on the arrival of a first child for a colleague at work, and a brother or sister for one of Sam’s good school friends. Births, and birthdays, and health, and illness – the stuff of life.
What I am realising
Dad’s little stint in hospital has been a wake-up call for me.
I have been on edge, and it has made me realise some of my inbuilt assumptions.
- How I assume that life will continue along. Why wouldn’t it? But I guess it won’t, for ever. This has made me more alert to that fact.
- How illness in different people can affect me differently. We had a period of some years with my husband’s parents, who did both suffer from long term and slowly deteriorating illnesses, and both died within nine months of each other. And that was a hard time – I miss them. But not to the degree that I will miss my own parents – the years of togetherness, the embedded patterns, and characteristics, and understandings that develop (not to mention, some frustrations – my parents are not angels!). And I understand a bit more how my brothers and sisters in law (and husband) would feel. Sigh.
- How much I rely on them, in different ways. Dad tends to be the calm influence in my immediate family, smoothing out misunderstandings and stresses and generally ‘flappiness’. He is not there to do this. To some degree, we can rise to the challenge, but it is not easy. My family, unfortuately, have been feeling it.
- How changes in circumstances, and uncertainty can affect us. Although Dad can appear calm, he isn’t always. He often hides it within. But when he is not in control, when he can’t plan ahead – well, he doesn’t enjoy it. And he is not in control at the moment. So he is worried about the garden dying, or the pressure on Mum, or the bills to be paid, or …. (and then passing this on us in the form of slightly stressed texts at very inconvenient times). The things he is worried about don’t matter (well, Mum does, but we are looking out for her, and she is actually quite good at looking after herself anyway). But it gives him something tangible to focus on. I get that. I do the same thing. But it isn’t helpful.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
Yes, this has happened in the midst of the lead-up to Christmas Day. A time where, if you are a Christian, you would ideally be contemplating and reflecting on what Christmas means, and the gift that it is. But, if you are like me, instead you have got caught up in the ‘being everywhere, doing everything’ (even if you managed to get your gifts under control through my helpful tips).
So, rather than being reflective, it can be a period of angst.
I was thinking of this as I looked at the Nativity scene we set up each year. I feel that I have lost sight of the fact this is celebrating the birth of a new child. But more than that – it is celebrating the gift of life generally.
- It is celebrating the fact that a family was committed and focused enough to stick with an embarrassing situation (pregnant before marriage. How shameful!) because it was the right thing to do.
- That, despite the lack of accommodation, someone gave up some of their precious barn space (the animals were often treated very well, because they were essential to the livelihood of their owners – so to let unknown people stay there was a really generous thing to do.
- That intelligent people (the wise men) and less well educated (the shepherds), could see the significance of this event, and commit time, resources and energy to be present. To focus on what was important rather than what they thought they should be doing.
In other words, so many people were encouraging, supporting, enhancing the lives of Jesus. It is not just the life that was created, but also those who were participants. To me, they were also life giving, and life enriching. And in turn, that is consistent with Jesus’ message throughout – ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full‘ (John 10:10 (NIV))
We all have the ability to care for others, to focus on the important things, to be ‘life enhancers’. I am aware I am often not – I am too focused on the urgent and forget the important (and my apologies to my family this last week or so because of my ‘flappiness’ during this time).
Sometimes people write and ask why Christmas is important. And I guess different people have different reasons – and for some people, due to religious, family or cultural reasons, it is not (or, in fact, can be the opposite – a hard and painful time that is best avoided). I find that sad.
I understand not everyone will believe the nativity version of Christmas (and that’s a topic for another day). But I hope most can embrace the idea of being ‘life enhancing’ to yourself and to others. And that is why I like the idea of Christmas. Even if I don’t always manage to enact this life enhancing idea, it provides an important reminder to me.
This will be my last post for this year – as I focus on ‘what’s important’. I hope this is a happy and relaxing time for you all, and see you in the new year!