Last night I went to sleep, “baaaa humbug!” I said as I was exhausted from wrapping gifts to be sent off to family. There was a sense of Christmas gloom and guilt, perhaps instead of being rushed to get family gifts in the mail I should be planning instead to visit family in person. Sure with my arthritis and new medications travel is not easy nor advised, but Christmas is about family. Right? I wearily fell asleep mumbling about “Plane tickets, maybe drive, it won’t snow right…zzzzz”
Suddenly there appeared a GHOST, it my old friend Marley that had died of her chronic illness not long ago. She was wrapped in chains, which dragged as she hobbled across the floor. I said, “So, you are still hobbling even after death? That’s a bummer, as I know your MS made you have problems walking when you were alive!”
Marley grumbled and pulled on her chains. “No, I can walk fine, but these chains are the chains of anger and frustration, I must pay for my sins in this world before I can devoid myself of the chains!” I couldn’t imagine what sins Marley was guilty of, she had dealt with her MS with courage, humor and always supported her chronically ill friends with empathy and love. What could possibly have happened?
Marley looked glum and said “I want to save you from the chains I have to wear, by warning you to heed the three visitors you will have tonight! Three ghosts will come to show you what has been, what is, and what might be. Only then can you be saved from my fate!” I assured Marley that she was only the holiday pudding I had eaten (let’s face it, pain killers give you a tummy ache), but even though she was only heartburn I wished her well in the afterlife.
I then fell fast asleep to be awoken then by a jolly roly poly old physician. He was smoking a pipe and said, “I am the doctor of Christmas dinners past!” I gave him a poke in the belly and he said “Yes I am the doctor of times long ago when doctors could be fat and smoke cigarettes, sometimes right in our office!”
He said, “Come with me and I will take you on a trip to Christmas family dinner of the past!” He then took my hand, and I took my cane because even though we were apparently going to fly out my window I knew I’d need it if any walking were involved.
We flew out over the snow topped houses and back into history, where we landed at a holiday dinner of long ago. It was at the Naval Academy where my husband had gone to school. We were in a room full of young men in uniforms.They were happily eating turkey, dressing, green beans and rolls. Next to a very handsome young midshipman was a young woman in a bright blue dress with too much trim. I recognized myself, wearing a Laura Ashley dress. I said “I can’t believe I had that hair, you know Doctor of Christmas past that hair took me 2 hours to curl!”
I then started trying to rearrange my large hair of Christmas past, really it was just too big and all that hair spray showed I had not heard of global warming yet. The Doctor of Christmas past said “Listen, stop and listen!”
The young midshipman turned to the young me and said “I’m so glad you were able to be here for my holiday dinner. I’m not able to go home, as my family has plans. I was going to be all alone this year, except for you. This is the best holiday dinner ever. I’ll never forget this. I love you.” Obviously I had forgotten, but still young me was “That’s alright, it can get really stressful at my parents. They are divorcing and it’s all bickering and everyone telling you how to live your life. This is a lot nicer. We are just enjoying each other’s company! I love you too!”
At this the scene became foggy and I found myself back in my bed. Had it all just been a dream? I thought back to that early first Christmas with my husband to be. We found we had so much in common. Pie, we both loved pie. Stuffing, we liked chunky bits of celery in it. We both liked gravy on our mashed potatoes more than butter alone. We knew what Christmas dinner was really about, food.
Then I fell back asleep only to awaken to a thinner ghost with curly hair. It was my own current doctor, Dr. Metsch! Dr.M was “Hello, I know we met only a week ago for your check up, and say how is that new medication working… no don’t tell me or I’ll have to charge you. This isn’t an office visit, this is off hours volunteer work. I’m here to show you Christmas dinner of the present!” I told Dr.M I was impressed as she was Jewish ,but she pointed out that nowadays even Jews could serve in ghostly holiday dreams.
Next thing I knew were were flying over the mountains and tree tops to my mothers home. Seated at the table were my brothers, my step dad and my uncle and his wife and family. I was also seated there with my husband. There was turkey, stuffing and my step fathers fantastic superb and probably potentially deadly mashed potatoes. He promises to share the secret before the potatoes kill him. Let’s just say I’ve noticed containers of heavy cream and real butter in the fridge before he makes them. My husband was turning to me and talking about the potatoes. I was agreeing with him about how wonderful they were. We were talking about food, as we did long ago at our first dinner.
Then, it began. My mother asked my uncle if he had any luck with losing weight, and how it just took will power. My mother pointed out how she was still as thin as she ever was, and that will power was all it took. Then she turned to me, pointing out that I was the ONLY fat child. I did point out, “You know I have to take steroids for my chronic illness, I do try to be careful about my weight, but…”
My uncle is then warned by another family member about his diabetes. Dream me is about to make a big mistake, and even I can’t stop me. I admit to my family that I am now diabetic because of the medications I take to treat my illnesses. I have to take medication now to deal with this deadly side effect. I say this as I have a spoonful of mashed potatoes and gravy halfway to my mouth.
Pandemonium ensues. Suggestions are offered about how I should deal with my illnesses. Everything from going vegan (from a sister in law who is and has “never been sick a day since I went vegan”) to a cousin (“It’s all those medications you take, the side effects are more dangerous than your illnesses!”) to my aunt (“no one has ever had diabetes before in our family, well except your uncle!”). At this point I know if I put that spoon of mashed potato in my mouth I will be in even bigger trouble than I am now.
Assurances that I have done well on my new medication and that I have the ability to check my blood glucose level is not heard. Who need google to look things up when you have my family? It’s all done “out of love”, but I wonder, “do they not think I have very expensive well trained doctors that can advise me?” To my horror, dream me has spoken these words out loud. It becomes a battle.
Memories of all the times I have been “careless”, and even the reminder once again, “No one ever had arthritis that I know of, except grandmother and her sister and those two cousins… so obviously it’s something she’s DONE.” My blessedly healthy and strong family is in full force attack, telling me how to cure everything wrong with me (except my Uncle, who is longingly looking at the mashed potatoes also, and we were honestly only going to have a small portion in keeping with the recommendation of our physicians).
I feel ugly, fat and guilty. Maybe it is something I have done. Everyone else is so healthy, I understand from my physicians and google that the immune response diseases I have are genetic in origin. I see my cousin getting ready to suggest again maybe the wrong baby was brought home from the hospital.
I awake shaking. I’m now terrified of what the Christmas ghost of future dinners has for me. However when the ghost appears it is only my dear friend Marly, only this time she has no chains fettering her.
She holds out her hands and smiles. “The chains were the guilt and misery my family inflicted on me every holiday. Instead of enjoying each others company, they would take it as a time to complain and try to fix my problems. They also picked on my sister who still lives with MS. Instead of a dinner with love and respect, it became something that left me weak and broken. Our families love us, they are concerned for us, but sadly instead of realizing that life is short for all of us, they try to fix us. They don’t try to understand what we are going through, the very effort to sit at a table can cause pain. Travel also take much planning and is scary. Instead of appreciating our sacrifice to be with them, they tell us the latest medical cure from Dr.OZ. Instead of praising us for what we do accomplish, like getting out of bed and facing another day with pain and complications, they don’t understand why we don’t do MORE. We are unable to enjoy ourselves, because they are unable to accept us as we are. Sometimes love means just being together and enjoying the mashed potatoes, in moderation of course.”
I saw then my husband, eating Christmas dinner alone. He was in our small house, that he had gone to such trouble to save up for so I could live on one floor. I remember him painting the rooms, working overtime for the renovations, and pushing me around in my wheelchair. He was eating turkey and mashed potatoes. There was a smile on his face, as if he were remembering that first Christmas dinner we had together. He had never lost his happy memories of that time, when it was just the two of us.
I then awoke.
I put aside plans to drive hours upon hours through possible snow storms to be with family. I put aside thoughts of spending money on plane tickets and maneuvering my wheel chair through airports. I gave up trying to plan an extra steroid shot so I could stand sitting upright for hours in travel without extreme pain.
I leaned over to kiss my husband where he was sleeping by my side. He awoke and I said “How about we just have Christmas here, just the two of us. Let’s make some happy memories!” His face lit up with a huge smile. I hugged him and said “Maybe my step dad will give us his famous mashed potato recipe? We’ll only make a little bit!”
Because Christmas dinner is about being together and enjoying food. It’s about creating happy memories for when you aren’t there anymore.
**** Please note, the above is a work of FICTION. I do love my family, and enjoy spending time with them. Especially my wonderful brothers and incredible children! BUT.. all of them at once, and with the fixer upers on full alert, it can be too much for when you are battling a chronic illness. Sometimes, we just decide to “stay home”, and eat the mashed potatoes. Which are NOT a work of fiction and do indeed exist though they are a closely guarded secret.