Keeping Traditions Helps Us to Keep Hope

My husband has been hospitalized for weeks, most of this time in intensive care. I visit him three times a day, an erratic schedule that doesn’t leave much time for Christmas shopping or baking. “I don’t care if we have a Christmas tree or not,” I announced to my granddaughter. “Putting it up is work and taking it down is work.”

A frown and look of disappointment appeared on my granddaughter’s face. Clearly, she didn’t agree with my decision about the tree. “Don’t worry, Grandma,” she answered. “I’ll put it up.”

Minutes later, her twin brother climbed the ladder and retrieved the tree from the attic. Three years ago, tired of wandering around in sub-zero cold looking for the “right” Christmas tree, my husband and I bought an artificial one. Twenty minutes later, the tree was assembled and I could tell my granddaughter was excited about Christmas. I offered to decorate the tree.

I took familiar ornaments one-by-one out of the red box they were stored in and hung them on the branches. Two ornaments had pictures of my twin grandchildren on them, photos taken when they were about four years old. As I hung them on the tree tears came to my eyes. In 2007 their mother and father died from the injuries they received in separate car crashes. Christmas just isn’t the same without these family members.

I thought about blessings, too, the fact that my husband and I had been appointed as the twins’ legal guardians, which turned out to be the biggest blessing of our lives. So I kept decorating the tree, adding ornaments from the twins’ childhood. My granddaughter returned to the living room, saw the tree, smiled and exclaimed, “Oh, I was so little when I made that ornament!”

Though I didn’t think putting up the Christmas tree would boost my spirits, it did, and I’m glad my granddaughter insisted on doing it. Slowly, the excitement of Christmas and the joy of giving lifted my dark mood. I bought my husband a small artificial tree for his hospital room and a sweater he could open and wear in the hospital. And I asked my grandkids to take pictures of the tree and gifts to show their grandfather.

He would have a different experience this year, but he would have Christmas. What other traditions could I keep?

For years, our family had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. The first time my twin grandchildren tasted the soup they gave it a loud “YUK!” rating. In the passing years, however, they’ve learned to eat an oyster or two and respect the tradition. I didn’t have time to go into Christmas cookie production, but I could bake a batch of cookies and my granddaughter offered to bake Spritz. In a few days my grandson will be home from college and we will be ready for Christmas, ready t share traditions together.

I’ve found hope in the simple things again – spending time with family, giving to others, caring for my beloved husband in health and in sickness. Each time I visit him I tell him the same thing: “I love you more today than I did yesterday.” The journey has been hard, but my husband is alive, and that is the best Christmas gift of all.

 

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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