Christmas time is a season I love….for all the wrong reasons! I love the fading light as the days get shorter, especially walking in Paris when the sky is a pinkish grey turning to dark purple then to nighttime black. I love the lights around the Champs Elysees and the Ave. Montaigne. Many arrondissements have also decked themselves out near the Mairie in an array of colours and blinking tiny little lights that tell you that FairyLand is around the corner. The windows in the Department Stores are a delight for everyone of all ages. There are tables set for Christmas Eve dinner with animals prancing around, chasing each other and having wonderful fun. Mama Bears are serving up a meal and Papa Bears are cutting a turkey. In another window, there are trapezes with more animals and dolls all sporting the the bags and clothes of the Designer who is sponsoring the window. I don’t care. It’s a treat! In front of the window are families. The adults in the back and the children up at the windows with their hands out wishing they could touch what is inside. My gardienne put up a large tree with wrapped presents under it. The lights twinkle day and night. I’ve never seen an apartment building like that before. I think I have a very special gardienne.
I’m not religious so I don’t need all the icons that go along with Christmas. I don’t go to the Christmas concerts unless it’s Sing Along Carols. Those I love. My friend, Meg, is taking me to a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Westminster Abbey when I’m in London. This is quite religious but at least this year, I’ll hear it in English! I can be talked in to most kinds of music with the codicil that I can leave early if I’m not happy.
I even love giving presents. I’m not the person who shops at the last minute which probably makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy gift giving. I shop all year long looking at things and thinking “my sister would love that”. I buy it and put it on my gift shelf to be wrapped at a later date for a birthday or Christmas. So unless someone tells me that their house is bursting at the seams and not one more thing can come inside, they will get a gift from me no matter how old they are.
Last summer, when winter and Christmas seemed light years away, a family in London asked if I wanted to do a Home Exchange. They would spend the month of December at my home in Oakland, California and I would spend at least two weeks at their home in London. I’ve always heard that London really knows how to throw a Christmas party. Each time I mention to someone that I’m going to London, I hear “You have to go see the windows at Harrods/Fortnum and Mason/John Lewis, etc” So more windows to appreciate.
Yet, while all this beautiful and festive time of year surrounds me, my mind and heart are partly in Princeton, NJ where my uncle Stan still lies in a hospital bed in the Skilled Nursing floor of his Retirement Home. Very little has changed. I’m told his appetite is coming back and the hope of everyone that loves him is that this will make him stronger. And being stronger, his Physical Therapy will go better. Which means he will become more mobile. Being mobile is critical as Medicare, the great American social insurance plan for adults over 65, will assess him soon and tell us and him what his future will look like as far as living conditions go. I feel strongly and passionately that I don’t want Medicare being the boss. I want to be there and with his family and friends, tell Medicare this is what we can do for him. We will make it happen. Stan needs to stay in his apartment, there is no doubt in my mind. Enid, his wife of 61 years, lived there with him and her presence is everywhere. His computer, which is his lifeline to the men who are still living and flew with him in WWII, is there. All his Princeton Basketball paraphernalia is there. He has tapes of games going back for years. He still watches them. His freedom is there. On every phone call with him he says “I am so helpless. I can’t stand it”
Cousin Joan and I are determined to create a bedroom for him that can have a hospital bed and a bedroom for a live-in aide–hopefully a strong male aide. Joan wrote a letter to Stan’s lawyer asking for some kind of contract that Stan could sign saying he won’t hold Stonebridge responsible if anything should happen to him. Even if Stan lives less months that he would if he were moved, the months would be as “good as it gets” months for him. That is what is important. That he leave this world with the things he loves and the people he loves surrounding him.
Those of you who have read Being Mortal recognise that some of my strength is coming from reading this book, this text for how to humanise the end of life. And I’m not foolish enough to think that reading is doing. I think it is going to be quite hard to talk about this stuff with the doctors, with Stonebridge, maybe even friends and family. We Princetonites are supposed to be intelligent and educated. So we’ll see. I have planned a trip back there in January.
Meanwhile, it’s off to London. It has been a long time since I spent any time in London. More to come in these pages……!