To tell my Christmas Story, I have to go back to 2004, for that is when my husband chose to leave this world. He had been suffering long enough. So he spent four days in hospice before leaving his body. I rode up front in the ambulance with the driver.
Hospice was not pleasant for some reason; it is supposed to be, but it wasn’t. They put Bob in diapers and confined him to bed. On the second or third day, I was told they found him on the floor. He said he was trying to get to the second floor.
My sister arrived, having driven straight through from Pennsylvania. That evening she insisted that Rob and I go home to rest. We were both crazed and dazed with fatigue. But sometime in the early morning of December 20, the phone rang. The matron was telling me that Bob had passed. She asked if I wanted to come and I said no. If that sounds hard, it wasn’t. It was unendurable. I had passed “hard” long ago. I had nothing to give a dead body that I had not already given my precious husband.
And so we flew to Memphis for his funeral. Everything was hurried because he would be buried on Dec. 23. There was no time for a visitation; an ice storm was brewing. Only a handful of people were able to make it for the service. I told the minister to hurry the graveside words along because ice was taking over.
Back at the funeral home, my sister realized her purse had been stolen from her car, as had Bob’s cousin. This forced us to skip the family gathering at Bob’s brother’s house. She had to cancel her credit cards. By the time she hung up the phone, we were iced in at the Marriott Courtyard.
We stayed there 3 days and 3 nights. Christmas Eve, a black woman who worked in the restaurant there said she was going to make us Christmas Eve dinner. The motel was mostly deserted and there were five of us at that dinner. My son and I and my sister, my first cousin and the employee, whose name just happened to be Mary.
It got even stranger. As we had our Christmas dinner, I told her my daughter had been a patient at St. Jude’s. She said, “My son was a patient there, too!” She went on to say that he was 21 now. The feeling that this was all simply an unfolding of grace did not escape any of the five of us.
The next day Rob and my sister and I flew back to Atlanta. My new life had begun. The next day we read about the tsunami that took the lives of so many people. A total wipeout. A new beginning. And it continues, both the suffering and the grace. That is simply how it is designed. As Leonard Cohen says, at some point you have to say hallelujah over it all.
The writer of these words has another name; I was telling that to someone. My real name is Vera. Vicki is simply what I have always been called. Vera means true. I like that. And I am learning to love the self that goes by either name.