What Christmas Was Like This Year

From James:

I think my grandma said it best in her Christmas card to us this year: bittersweet.

First, the sweet part. So Young was able to go downstairs to unwrap presents with the girls and me, which would have been impossible a few days ago without the chair lift.

The presents were exceptional this year, but not because of their material extravagance per se. A few examples…

Laurie worked with So Young for weeks to put together a set of presents from So Young to each of the girls. Each girl received a letter from So Young, along with a picture of with their mom, and encouraging verses, all packaged beautifully in a jar for each girl. Somehow Laurie was able to meet with So Young and piece together the letters in a way that clearly captured their mothers’ heart for each of them, including words of praise, advice, and verses as they navigate the rest of their lives. These letters are so incredibly poignant and meaningful that I immediately cried upon reading each one. Our doctor had recommended something similar in the form of a video message from So Young that the girls could look at later, but that has simply become impossible given So Young’s condition, with her cognitive function and verbal ability greatly diminished.

So Young’s longtime friend Kim created something of similarly exceptional meaning. A few weeks ago, again when So Young was more capable and lucid, Kim interviewed So Young about each girl, and then had the girls create a piece of art depicting the qualities that So Young described. She also took photos of the mothers and daughters together, and then she packaged all of this and presented it to the girls this Christmas, each receiving an individually framed piece with the portraiture and message from So Young about each daughter, drawn in each girl’s own hand. The creativity and Herculean effort that went into this amazes me.

Kim, Laurie, Jin, and others also conspired to give me gifts “from” So Young to me, from the girls to their parents, to each of the girls, and sometimes mysteriously “from Santa” to one or all of us. Describing it here is cursory and doesn’t do justice to it.

The girls also received the vast majority of their gifts from the “Maryland Ladies Small Group” at our church, with Melissa leading the conspiracy. She and her crew simply took the girls lists and got them everything to the extreme, to the point that all three girls agreed that this was the “best Christmas ever” (“from the perspective of presents,” Shannon clarified). The piles of gifts that awaited them on Christmas morning were bigger than ever before, and evidently completely on target from the girls’ perspective.

Our Christmas dinner was provided in its entirety by Caroline’s small group, including a whole turkey with all of the sides you could want. My only duty upon receiving them was to provide my services as a Microwave Operator (and occasional Oven Operator) by heating it up.

These are just a few examples among many this Christmas. A monumental amount of creativity and hard work went into each of these endeavors. It is hard to express the gratitude I feel for my family being the recipient of all of these gifts, material and otherwise. I am reminded that So Young is deeply loved and poured herself into the lives of many. I am also struck by the generous love of Christ’s followers, full of a sincere and genuine compassion that takes believers to extremes of expressing love in tangible ways. I would challenge anyone to write this off as ordinary, run-of-the-mill humanistic duty. It is over the top. Motivated by what? Nothing ordinary.

We also enjoyed the company of close friends and family around Christmas. There was a pervading sense of sadness and loss, but also a gratitude that So Young is still here.

Now for the bitter part, although I don’t know that that’s a good word for it. The sad part is a better way to say it, perhaps. So Young was only dimly aware of Christmas this year. In the days leading up to the holiday, despite numerous reminders from me and others, she speculated that Christmas was a “celebration” called “King’s Dominion.” Later she said it was “Pilgrim’s Day,” even as she sat in her bed looking at the Christmas trees in front of her. She eventually understood that Christmas was coming, but that morning, she kept forgetting, over and over, from the time I got her dressed to the moment I brought her downstairs. Who is here? Where are we going? Why are we going downstairs? I would reassure her and explain each time that it was Christmas and we are opening presents with the kids.

This is just one example of the loss of short-term memory that I am observing in So Young, which didn’t exist or wasn’t noticeable a week ago. She will forget events within a few hours of them happening, such as denying that she went to church on the same Sunday she attended for half the day or that she saw Shannon and Lindsay perform a skit at the service. She will forget events from the day before, such as the gift I gave her for Christmas, which had the upside of me being able to show her the gift over and over again and her being pleased with it each time.

The girls and I had a somber Christmas Eve after our friends and family left. Shannon was particularly sad, she who had been my greatest encourager earlier that day when I was down. She rightly observed that we hadn’t done any of our traditions this year, such as advent. We also hadn’t done the Christmas movie marathon we’d planned. But I think more than anything, she like all of us was missing So Young. What we have lost of her is present with us all the time, something that we feel but can’t articulate and maybe aren’t even fully aware of. Something just feels wrong. We always miss her. Lindsay started a round of Christmas carols to cheer us up that night. Watching a Charlie Brown Christmas special helped us through as well.

Mommy was there Christmas morning, but it wasn’t the same. There was never a sense that she was fully there. She was physically there, just not the old So Young, the old Mommy. It is hard for me writing this to even describe to you who that person was. What was she like before? On Christmas, she was tired and very quiet, but we did manage to make her smile and chuckle a few times.

Everything in me hates what is happening right now. There are so many levels of despising it, and I know so few people fully understand it. Still, I am heartened by Christ’s suffering and how much He lost, even at the start, beginning as one of us, living as one of us, agonizing in loss as one of us, dying as one of us. I can’t shake my fist at God and say He doesn’t understand, because I know he does. I just wish there was another way.

11 Responses

  1. As I read your heart wrenching description of Christmas morning, I am struck at how you have lived each of your wedding vows during Christmas Day: to love, honor, cherish — in good times and bad, in sickness and in health — until death do you part… James, each aspect of your wedding vows was clearly and boldly demonstrated this Christmas. What more precious a gift could you have given to So Young and your three daughters this Christmas? Wow! So few women ever experience the depth and breadth of a husband’s servant leadership. Your So Young and three daughters have seen Jesus’ light through all that you have done.

    And as So Young slips away from your loving embrace, she will know that, despite her suffering, you have graciously picked up her cross to carry her and that cross to the finish line. May our loving Saviour give you courage to face this greatest of tasks: saying farewell to a magnificent wife and mother, So Young.

    Pax Christi.

  2. My brother, I ache with you as I read your words. Rightfully so, you despise this process because you are watching the wife and mother who you love so much slip away. But be encouraged by the truth of Scripture. . . you said it best when you said that Christ understands because He endured it already. And agonizingly so. Your words “I just wish there was another way” so echo Christ’s plea to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. I don’t have the right words to comfort you brother, because honestly, you have been given a very difficult cross, but please know that your heartfelt and transparent words demonstrate that like so few of us could, you are LIVING your vows out loud and your ACTIONS are a true testimony of God’s enduring power to strengthen through the Holy Spirit.

    When I read your blog, what I can clearly see is that even in the midst of incredible difficulty, the Lord is still proving faithful to your family. Our earthly tents are temporal, but the love that you and your girls feel for So Young is eternal, and so is the impact that her life will have on the Kingdom of God. I say this in all sincerity, brother . . . your wife’s life makes all of us who know her want to be better Christians, better fathers and mothers, better husbands and wives, better human beings. She is an incredible person and I am so thankful to have known her and I thank you for demonstrating great strength for your daughters and true Christian character to each of us who gets to read about So Young’s New Marathon. Remember, He will be with you always, James. Look past the current circumstance. As tough as that might be at times. Know that the Lord is with you through all of this. Because He is.

    In Christ,


  3. I so feel for you and the girls. Reading this made me cry for you all. But the kindness you experience seems to lift you. I pray for you but I do know that nothing makes this easier. Hugs for you all.

  4. Obviously none of us can ease your pain during this time, but hold on to our Lord, who holds you in His arms. I am thankful to be a small part of your life during this time, and am grateful to have met So Young. You and she have inspired so many and I pray she knows in some small way that she has indeed served her God in a great and meaningful way. Thanks for sharing all that you are going through, good and bad. I continue to pray for you all.

  5. I like so many others felt pain and sadness to hear of your Christmas…yet your love and support for each other and those that surround you with such profound caring has been uplifting. My love and prayers continue for you all….

  6. We pray for God’s healing touch upon everyone there…
    With love and affection,

  7. James, I am so touched by your honesty, by your dedication to So Young and your girls, and by your sadness. I pray with God gives you and your girls much comfort and wisdom in this difficult time, and gives So Young peace in her heart.

  8. James, How does one reply to such a “forever love letter”? Our tears and love are poured out to you and your girls. The beauty and memory of this love will not end…it is forever with so may who have been watching and reading and will share. We are the bride of Christ and you have so exemplified this with your dedication and love.

  9. James, I read what you have written and all the replies, and find that there is not anything more for me to say than what has already been said in love. I write you anyway because I want you to know that I am a part of the army that stands by your side, and beside your girls and So Young. I pray with you and for you. I hope you know that even in this ordeal, you and So Young have touched many people in a profound and positive way, and the effect will live on in all who have read or witnessed or taken part. Peace be with you, your girls, your extended family, your church, and others affected by your experience as we approach a new year. Although I am your uncle, today I am your brother in Jesus.

  10. This is truly a Christmas story and a true example of Christ’s hands and feet doing his work on earth. Bittersweet is a perfect word to describe this event in your lives. My heart hurts and tears flow to read this, but JOY fills my heart to see all the LOVE that surrounds you and your family. GOD IS GOOD, GOD IS GREAT, let us THANK him for what he is doing thru you and your family.

    May 2013 bring Peace to you, So Young and your girls.

    Robin Eckwerth

  11. James, I read your Christmas writing so often and I am so touched by it on so many levels. Your transparency is so genuine and so appreciated. Thank you for continuing to write. It is a blessing as we continue to ask God for his mercy and peace to surround you.

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