Last year was the first year my mother didn’t recognize me at all . . . not even a glimmer.  I’d been expecting Alzheimer’s to take away her ability to recognize my face, but wasn’t really prepared.

That was the first Christmas it seemed to make no difference whether or not I called my mom for the holidays since she didn’t know whether it was Christmas or St. Swithens Day, whether it was me or the Easter Bunny.  She’d long since forgotten what the telephone was and what those noises coming into her ear were.

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and me.  She’d come home from work with a fiendish grin as she scurried down the hall to hide my gifts. (She hid them so well that, long before Alzheimer’s took hold, we’d be finding gifts into Valentine’s Day!)  I always loved trying to find the perfect things for her, something that’d show how much I love her, something to make her feel pampered and special.  I particularly loved wrapping Mom’s gifts.  We always exchanged multiple cards and I’d begun putting a hankie in the “mushiest” one to dab her Christmas tears of joy.

For Christmas 2008, I was longing for some Christmas spirit and for someone to buy a gift for, to wrap it and to imagine the happiness that gift would bring.  Then my friend declared she’d created a holiday challenge for herself (and her friends, friends of friends) to get gifts for 100 kids through New York Cares Winter Wishes program.  What it really was, was a gift to my heart, another demonstration that it truly is better to give than to receive, and that it is through giving that we receive much more.

I got to shop for just the right super-ultra PlayDoh, beg the salesperson on the phone to hold the last game of Super Uno Flash for me until I got to the store after work, and experience that grin I used to see on my mom’s face when she smuggled home the perfect gift, anticipating the delight it would bring.

My mom died this August.  I’ll become Santa to another child this year in her honor.  It provides so much comfort and joy to hold the handmade letters to Santa in my hand, reading over the simple wish lists, choosing just the right gifts, wrapping them, shipping them off and imagining the Christmas morning grins.

Someone once wrote, “Don’t focus on what you’ve lost, focus on what you have left.”

Now, what the heck is a tech deck?!

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Connie Vasquez

Connie Vasquez is an only child who recently lost her mother after years with Alzheimer's. Through that experience, she learned about compassion, love, forgiveness and grace. Her sense of humor also saw her through. A practicing attorney, cardiac yoga teacher and life coach, Connie lives in New York City.

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