A Bittersweet Christmas
As America waited for the ball drop in Times Square, I wondered what the next year would bring. As a child, I always eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus. I was equally as excited to attend midnight mass with my grandparents after opening presents and listening to Italian Christmas carols. Sadly, this April, my grandfather passed away. We wanted to make this a special Christmas for my grandmother, to help ease the loneliness in losing the man she was married to for almost half a century. My mother prepared chicken parmesan and spaghetti. This, she thought, would pair well with Olive Garden take out, which my aunt had purchased for the occasion of Christmas.
My grandmother has sadly fallen prey to dementia; it’s heartbreaking. Everyone knows that as a person ages, their physical health declines. Dementia is robbing my grandmother of her mind. She spent the better part of the evening telling my family that my grandfather is not dead, but he is in fact in California. She believes my grandfather is in LA making Hallmark movies with his new girlfriend. My cousin tried to call my grandmother to wish her a Merry Christmas. My grandmother believes that my cousin is too busy starring in TV shows to call her back, but never fear, she will come to see her at some point when she’s done making a lot of money. My grandmother couldn’t grasp elementary concepts; the types of food were placed on a plate in front of her. To make things easier for everyone, my mother put naked pasta noodles in a clear container and then sauce and fixins in other containers so everyone could enjoy the pasta the way they like.
When my grandmother saw the naked noodles, she assumed we were having macaroni salad, and she not stop pointing and singing about how that’s what she wanted. Still, everyone around her was, for some reason, deciding to deprive her of macaroni salad. At first, we all apologized for the disappointment, but after a while, we just ended up agreeing with her. My grandma thought that everyone was conspiring to deprive her of macaroni salad.
When it was time to exchange presents, we went to the sunroom. The sunroom used to be my grandmother’s pride and joy. She loved the pink carpeting so much. It was an extension she said my grandfather put in there exclusively for her. When I had asked my aunt, who was with my cousin as her primary caretaker, what she thought my grandmother would want, she said a beautiful new blanket would be the perfect present. I got her a very soft white blanket, and instead of saying thank you, she just said, “No, I’ve got two blankets” like a little kid and then made us feel the blanket she already had on her lap. It was eerie. My grandma seemed to have an almost childlike fascination with the flowered blanket. She made everyone in the room feel her “blanky,” as she called it.
It was heartbreaking to see my grandmother like this.
My siblings got a couple packs of lager and my brother, sister, mother, and I all played the elf drinking game, as well as the National Lampoon’s Christmas drinking game. As you can imagine, taking a drink every time someone says the word “Christmas” in those movies can get you very drunk. Trying to build new traditions is hard, especially when the old ones feel like they’re being ripped away from you. I wish that Santa was real. All I would ask him for is to make my grandmother be herself again. But I would also thank him for giving me an appreciation for my wonderful family.