Last year at this time, we were suffering terribly. Katie was miserable in between rounds of chemo, and the last rounds were the worst. She needed medication around the clock to help her feel just "okay," and to control nausea, as well as 2-3 injections a day, and was only interested in watching TV and movies. We were all living in one small room at Ronald McDonald House, when she wasn't in the hospital: two queen-sized beds and a window-seat/bed, a table, two chairs, a TV/VCR/DVD player and (thank goodness) our own bathroom. David and I went shopping with my sister, Debbie to buy a wreath and 2 small (fake) trees, lights and decorations that the kids could make their own, and place on the windowsill of our room. Katie wasn't interested enough to finish hers. She skipped all of the opportunities at RMcD House to join in festivities, such as making gingerbread houses, caroling, a photo session with Santa or taking a holiday cruise. She just felt too awful. If you have ever loved someone who is suffering, you know that all who love and care for her suffer with her; that is compassion. It was a really hard time for all of us, especially since Katie and David LOVE Christmas.
The week of Christmas itself, Katie was an inpatient finishing a 5-day round of chemo; she spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in the hospital. I was with her, while Gregg stayed at Ronald McDonald House and visited us daily. We encouraged David to go home and spend Christmas with Uncle Charlie and Auntie Cheri, and to be with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The Gerstenbergers really know how to celebrate Christmas, and we wanted David to be surrounded by that familiar love and joy. He did go, and he had a great time, but it was hard on all of us to be separated.
This year, we have enjoyed being in our own home, going to choose, cut and decorate a real tree again, hanging lights, making treats with Taylor, and (for me), spending quiet time praying with the Advent devotional readings. I love Advent; having been brought up as a Christian Scientist, I didn't know about Advent, and it was a revelation and a joy to me. The light and anticipation that are intrinsic to the season are helping me to deal with the darkness of the days and the strangeness of experiencing our first Christmas without Katie. Last year she was with us in body, but not in spirit, because she was suffering so much. This year, she is not with us in body, and I assume that she is not suffering any more; I feel she is free, and that is what I pray for her. I do not say "I know," because I cannot KNOW; I can hope and pray and feel, and that is going to have to be enough, for now. So I am thankful and joyful for what I have, and I will continue to love my girl with all of my heart. I wish she were here with us, enjoying Christmas, wearing her Santa hat with David...but she is not.
I found this poem in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's book, On Death and Dying:
In desperate hope I go and search for her in all the corners of my room; I find
My house is small and what once has gone from it can never be
But infinite is thy mansion, my lord, and seeking her I have come
to thy door.
I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky and I lift
my eager eyes to thy face.
I have come to the brink of eternity from which
nothing can vanish--no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through
Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean, plunge it into the deepest
fullness. Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch in the allness of the
universe. - TAGORE, from Gitanjali
Tofino, BC, about a week after Katie's Celebration of Life