Saturday, December 29, 2018

Family Time at Christmas

Let's catch up on some Christmas family things.

I'm overdue with posting about "The Christmas Day Food." I actually don't have a lot of food pictures, just because... well, I just didn't take many pictures.

Nevertheless, I am a true foodie at heart. I can't just let a place setting like this go undocumented. Some of the dishes and plates are from my parents:

Side dish spinach salad was even better than it looks here:

Then there's the feature which, of course, is a lovely pasta and beef dish. Not the best picture, but I was in a hurry to EAT!

The wine was excellent, from our own local friends at Rappahannock Cellars. It must have been a Christmas present from somebody. It was a perfect companion for the food.

The best companions, of course, were the family sitting around the table. For years it was too easy to take those full chairs for granted. It's been great having everyone around. [Shhhh ... these "kids" were secretly photographed, so don't tell them ... this seems desperate, but I don't mind sneaking a few candid shots, because no matter how old they get, they'll always be our kids.]

After all, it wasn't that long ago (well, 2003 is maybe a bit "long ago") when the four oldest kids looked like this at Christmas time (see below). It's something you never really forget as a parent, even though it's great to see them grow up.

Really, family is precious in all its "seasons," even in the midst of its many challenges, and even with the sorrows that cannot be avoided in this present life because we are humanly connected to other changing, fragile, suffering people.

The day after Christmas we all went to see my Dad (a.k.a. "Papa"). The grandchildren have been to see him various times before, but this was the first time we were all there together (all seven of us plus my brother).

It was a lot for Dad to take in, but he had some degree of recognition at different moments. He knew he was with family. With his shifting moods came also some smiles and laughter. I'm grateful that for now my Dad's face can still light up with a smile.

Tomorrow we will travel to see my homebound Mom, and we will celebrate not only Christmas with her but also her 80th birthday (a day she is observing gratefully but also discreetly, without fanfare).

Mom has had such a difficult and bewildering year, the beginning of which saw the rapid erosion of Dad's physical and mental health. Now she is—by these strange circumstances of life—separated by 70 miles from him.

She has not been able to see him since his big breakdown last March. She misses him and suffers because of this, and from many other things too. Dad misses her a lot, though less and less in a conscious way (as far as we can tell) since he often seems to think she's in the next room, or that he's back at the condo.

Diverse health problems and the whimsical bureaucracy of the 21st Century "First-World" Healthcare "system" have resulted in this distance between them that, for now at least, can't be resolved. I'm glad their physical needs are being met. Our society is good at doing that. But with human persons, relationships, and community, we're "lost at sea" and don't know how to find one another. It breaks my heart.

I guess for now we (their children and grandchildren) remain the living bond between my parents as we continue being a meaningful presence in both their lives. What unites our family above all, however, is Jesus who accompanies us through all of this. I pray that, through Him, we can have some joy and even "cheer" with Mom ("Grandma") tomorrow. There is no longer any way to ignore reality here, so we have to live with it. That's a good thing, even if it's hard.

I want to hold on tight to Jesus in His humanity right now. He is human, really. How easily we forget that fact, and yet it's so important. It's everything.

Simple things can help us remember. The kids being home, great food, my wife who brings so much class to everything she does -- I'm thankful for these very concrete human blessings at Christmas. Life can be hard, but it also finds ways to surprise us with touches of beauty, things that make us rediscover familiar and "ordinary" realities in new ways.

We are sustained by the life of Christ in the Church, by His sacraments, and by these commemorations in the liturgical year. His humanity touches us and extends the presence of His love to all the features, problems, and sufferings of life, enabling us to continue the journey.