My cat, Jade, is dying. I’ve heard the line, “well, aren’t we all?”, and while that may be true in one sense, in another, don’t we all know that there’s a difference, really?
Since the end of October, Jade’s ‘been dying’: at that point, she was diagnosed with mast cell cancer in her spleen, a tumor in her brain, a heart murmur (which became 2 heart murmurs), hyperthyroidism, and a few other not-so-great bits. The past 6 weeks, we’ve been treating her with meds to increase her comfort and we’ve been monitoring her status. Both my primary vet (Brookeville Animal Hospital) and the ER vet (The Hope Center) have been nothing but kind and diligent in their care of her and in explaining all of the nuances and treatment options. She’d been responding marvelously to the meds (which aren’t chemo drugs) and while her time was limited, she had almost gotten back to the Jade I know.
Until all that changed.
Christmas is supposed to be about celebration, joyful anticipation, waiting. The kids are all hyped up on candy and sweets from parties, and Christmas Eve, well, that’s the epitome of all the waiting. I still remember clear as a night sky with a full moon, the Christmas Eve traditions we had: late night Mass, arrival home, waiting in bed with the Christmas lights decorating our window. We’d lay in bed for hours and hours, trying to sleep, yet unable, we were so excited.
Sometimes (Most times) we’d sneak downstairs to see what Santa Claus had brought.
Now that was a challenge. Our stairs creaked, and so my sister and I would have to put our feet along the railings on the side of the stairs and slowly inch down, careful not to slip and fall down the steps. It was probably very comical, the sort of thing that now would’ve gone viral on YouTube. We’d sneak down, look at the packages and then sneak back up. Our parents made us wait until 7 or 7:30, and before we could go down, all sorts of boxes had to be checked:
* my dad had to go down and check for Santa Claus, to make sure he still wasn’t there
* my 4 siblings and I had to pile into my parents’ (Queen size) bed, where we’d all settle in to read the Christmas story. As we got older, the reading became our job, shared among us all.
*finally, we could go downstairs. Someone would walk in the front caring a baby doll and we’d sing a Christmas carol about Jesus being born.
Once we were in our living room, the painstakingly slow process of opening presents began. One person, at a time, could open one gift. Once that person had opened his or her gift, s/he got to select a gift for the next lucky person. This continued, on and on, for what seemed to be an eternity. More waiting. Waiting to open the gift you thought just might be your #1 item. Waiting to give the gift you picked or made to your brother, sister, mother, father. Waiting for the go-ahead from Mom/Dad that it was time for us all to open our stockings (we did that part collectively).
Clearly, waiting was a huge part of Christmas. It’s big for Advent, too, in the weeks that lead up to Christmas. Waiting, anticipation, tension as one holds space for an arrival. These are all central to the story of the birth of Jesus.
This year, I experienced Christmas waiting & anticipation in a new way. Well, three new ways, really.
Around noon on Dec 24th, I called a dear friend to say hi. She answered her phone and told me that her husband was taking her mother-in-law (who lives with her) to the Emergency Room; she had pain in her lungs and it hurt enough for her to bring it up. My friend and I waited the afternoon away. We finished her Christmas shopping and we waited for news from her husband. We waited in lines, we waited in traffic, but mostly, we waited to hear about her mother-in-law.
As I was dropping my friend off at her home, around 5ish, another friend called me. I sent her to voicemail, knowing I could call her back in a few minutes. When I returned her call, she said “Hello, hold on a second” and then I heard her saying to someone in the background, “Do you know what time he died?” Her brother had died that afternoon. Right away, I drove to be with my friend, at the center where her brother had been staying.
And so, I waited, for the second time that day. We walked the halls of the facility, and my friend told me what she knew about what had happened with her brother. We returned to the room and waited for the funeral home to come and take her brother away. Our discussion ran the gamut– from the mundane (tales of my day or tales of my clients) to the remembrances (her tales of her brother, my memories, and her husband’s tales of him). And we waited. We sat, with anticipation. Not joyful anticipation, nor heavy anticipation, but the anticipation that comes with weariness and loss. When the funeral home arrived, we left.
Later that night, after some Christmas prep with my brother and mother, I came home and took Jade, my cat, to the ER, where I waited for the third time that day. I waited in the reception area while I watched other owners bring in their pets for surgery, for check up, for other procedures. Jade and I waited in the back room for Dr. Joung (who we’d seen in October) to come and evaluate Jade. And in the end, we continued our waiting at home, for we got no answers that night. By the time I got home it was 4 a.m. Jade was a much happier and re-hydrated cat.
So what’s all this have to do with Christmas and waiting and Love becoming en-fleshed?
Christmas day, I was exhausted. And, for the first year in a long time, Christmas day was seamless. It had its hiccups, but let’s be real– I didn’t melt down crying or want to cut out my heart because it hurt so badly. I call that growth.
I think, that what happened, was that I was so present on Christmas Eve to loving those I care about and to just be-ing. I sat with. I drove around. I listened to. I was scared about. Tiredness, need for alone-time, my particular quirks about how things needed to be done– none of it mattered, when it came down to it. What mattered was loving the people I was with, loving the companion I’ve chosen (my cat), loving the family I have. And that, I think, is what we wait for, when we wait for Christmas during that whole Advent season (which I didn’t really celebrate this year).
I didn’t breathe Advent through lighting the candles on the wreath or eating the daily chocolate from the Advent calendar. In fact, I thought I’d missed Advent and I didn’t really feel Christmasy, after the tiredness of many hours working on finals with my client and many many vet appointments with Jade. But really, Advent and waiting, and Love-In-Flesh were there all along and I just caught up to them on Christmas Eve so that I got the whole shebang compressed into 24 hours. I’d actually been on the journey the entire time, and like the three wise men giving their gifts to Jesus, just got it all at once: sick mother-in-law, dead brother, sick cat. My own gold, frankincense, and myrrh.