Janet's Jargon

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas disappointments--or not

One of the writers' e-groups I belong to was discussing bittersweet Christmases, when a loved one will likely not be there the next year. Or what if the last one was their last one, but nobody had any idea that was the case? I hate it when death comes around a holiday. It seems so much harder to take, because every year those images of the dearly departed ones in our lives seem to come back in full force, almost threatening to ruin what was meant to be a very special time of the year.

Those of you who know me know that I have a hard time focusing on the negative. I think that's a blessing. However, with Ivan gone, it is hard not to reflect a bit. But even in doing that, I can't help but smile. Let me share with you a bit of two Christmases we shared. One was very hard, and it still makes me shudder when I think of it.

It was Christmas eve, 1995. Ivan had a very sore foot. He was pretty much bedridden with it. He was very stubborn, especially when it came to doctoring. I pleaded with him to go get it checked out, but he was sure it was going to be okay if he just stayed off it. He finally gave in, and the ER doctor basically did nothing but to draw a ring around the area that was swollen and give him one shot of an antibiotic and send him home. By Christmas eve he was not able to walk on it other than to sort of hop on his other leg to get to the bathroom and back to bed again. I tried to call our regular doctor, but he was out of town, so Ivan said he didn't want to ruin everybody else's Christmas. On Christmas day, he spent the whole day in bed. He was not even able to get to the bathroom, so we resorted to his using a bedpan, which he hated. He was too sick to eat anything, even though he tried to get a few bites down that I fed him. We all took our presents back to the bedroom and opened them, but he was not even able to open his own gifts--and he loved getting gifts! On Dec. 26 our doctor was back in town and he said he would see Ivan right away. We took him up to the clinic, and the dr. immediately took him over to the hospital, where his leg was amputated. Even this did not seem to daunt Ivan's spirit. He said the Lord had already told him he was going to lose his leg.

Later, when he was "on the same level" as many kids he would meet and greet in stores, in the mall, in restaurants, he said he loved seeing things from their level. He said many times that his being able to reach so many kids made losing his leg all worthwhile. (He was 6 feet tall when he was standing up, and he often said that he must have looked like nothing but a pair of legs to little kids.) He carried a black marker in his shirt pocket, and when a kid would ask him what happened to his leg (usually to their mother's embarrassment), he would pull his pants leg up to show them. The incision scar was in a sort of rounded shape a ways up on his stump, so he would take his marker out and add a nose and two eyes to the ever-present "mouth." He would make his leg "talk" to them, telling them about the importance of good health, good eating habits, etc.

Yes, it was a rough Christmas, but he never complained about any of it. The other Christmas was his last one, in 2007. Would we have done anything differently if we had known it was his last one? I doubt it. God does know how to give us the desires of our hearts. No, not just the "needed" things, but many times the "wanted" things as well. Ivan served in the Korean War, and he treasured the medals he had earned. When Grand Forks had its great flood in 1997, his medals ended up somewhere between Grand Forks and Winnipeg. And it was that last Christmas that I contacted Sen. Kent Conrad to see if he could help me get replacement medals for him. Sen. Conrad graciously agreed, and he was successful. Just a few days before Christmas, the package arrived, bearing the replacement medals. When Ivan opened the package on that Christmas day, he beamed, and then his eyes filled with tears. He said it was the best Christmas present he ever got.

It was just a few days later that he said to me (and he had not been sick until the final day when he went home to be with the Lord), "You have had to give up doing so many things you wanted to do for your books and other things because you stayed home and took care of me. I love you so much for that. I hope some day you get to do them all." It was the greatest farewell gift he could have given me, even though neither of us realized that it was only a few short weeks until I would be faced with life without him.

As I look back at those Christmases, I feel not the bittersweet part of our life together, and the end of it, but I see his love for me, and I feel him smiling down at me. And when I go to any sort of a book event, I say softly as I walk out the door, "OK, this one's for you, dear. I'm just following orders!"

I guess what I am trying to say is that we never know what tomorrow will bring. Don't waste any time with fretting and stewing about the "what ifs" or the "if only I'd..." Instead, make the most of every single day you have. God gave us His son on that first Christmas day. Can we do less than to give of ourselves for those we love and those we meet?

Have a very Merry Christmas.

The picture above shows Ivan's service medals. Thank you, God, for letting me give him that gift.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


It used to be that Christmas shopping, tree trimming, etc. started the day after Thanksgiving. Anymore, you can find Christmas items in the stores beside Halloween costumes. Somehow, to me, that doesn't seem right.

Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. My Christmases are very different than they used to be. Ivan (my hubby of 42 years) passed away in Jan. 2008. My kids (they are so old now that they resent it when I call them "kids"!) are scattered all across the country. They do a good job of keeping in touch with me, but it's not the same as having them gather around the tree on Christmas morning as we all open our gifts together.

However, in my new (2-year-old) home in northeast Wisconsin, my holidays have been anything but lonely. I have made a ton of wonderful friends here, and they make sure that I am not alone. That is true not just on holidays, but people joke about my "revolving door" because people stop in so often. I love it! I am, in case you hadn't guessed it before, a "people person." Some people refer to me as a "social butterfly." I love butterflies, so that's fine with me. I have occasionally wondered if the reason people are so kind to me is out of pity. Afraid of the answer I might get, I refrain from asking them!

My holidays got off to a great start this year. Hal and Janice Locke live across the road and through the woods from me. They and their family has sort of "adopted" me. I'm not exactly sure what my family title is yet, but eventually I'll figure it out. Janice's daughter Judy invited me to spend Thanksgiving Day with them. To me, the best part of the holidays is children. This year, my extended family provided those kid-links. I am putting some of the pictures here so you can see why it was so special. Judy has a new granddaughter, Sage, pictured above with me (to the left). Hal and Janice are my special friends on the right above. Judy's daughter and son-in-law spent some time in Georgia, and their best friends drove all the way from Georgia to Wisconsin (through snow and wind) to be with the family. They had two children (Austin, 4 years old, pictured below right) and Jeremy (2 1/2 years old, bottom left). They were absolutely delightful. I don't remember what Jeremy was laughing at in that picture, but I have never ever seen a tot laugh that hard!

For more about Christmas and children, please visit my website at http://www.janetelainesmith.com or click on the title of this blog to go there directly.

Whatever you do, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I treasure each and every one of you.