On December 3, 2015, my parents – at 73 years of age – moved to Los Angeles, from New York City. The city they had lived in, their whole lives. They had traveled. Florida and Puerto Rico. Still extremely east coast. December 3rd was my middle daughter’s 6th birthday, and my Mom and Dad told her that the move was FOR her! It was HER birthday present.
Truth be told – my Dad was suffering from 4 different types of 9/11 related cancers. My parents lived in a townhouse near Ground Zero at the time of the tragedy and for the following 14 years. He had suffered cardiac arrest in the summer of 2015 and almost did not make it. That scared him, and he immediately decided to pack up and move out to CA to be close to us. He said, “In case his days were numbered.”
When we met them at the Burbank airport – I saw my Dad walking towards us. He was wearing a navy blue and lime green tracksuit and a black fedora. Of course, he had his gym bag slung over his shoulder. There was a pep in his step that I hadn’t seen in a long while. My daughter ran to him – arms wide open, and I captured the moment in a picture. One that will make me smile and cry all at the same time for the rest of my life.
The following seven months and three weeks were a roller coaster of emotions. My Dad was getting sicker and sicker daily. Los Angeles doctors had never seen the types of cancer my father was fighting. (Fighting cancer is not for the faint of heart.) In New York – the doctors were familiar. There are many people suffering there. I gave birth to a third daughter in February. Although a happy time for all of us, it was also a stressful time. It was hard to take care of my three children and help my parents adjust to this new place and watch my father succumb to the diseases he had fought against, like a lion, for 12 years.
I was trying to help him. Driving him to doctors and hospitals. Getting referrals. The time difference between the East Coast and the West Coast didn’t help. And the guy who lived directly below their condo who left his Yorkie outside on the terrace all day when he went to work. The Yorkie who barked incessantly, relentlessly while my father suffered from migraines. These things didn’t help.
He left his last voicemail for me on July 8th, 2016. He talked about having come back from the gym, and maybe it was a little too much for him because he was tired. He said he was “alright?” But there was a question in his voice almost as if he wanted me to call him back and assure him that he was. My Dad was not a second-guesser. He knew whether or not he was alright. If he was questioning it… that meant he was not alright.
On July 12th, 2016 – my mother called and asked my brother and me to come to their home. She said my father was unable to walk. When we got there his appearance shocked me. He didn’t look like my Dad. He was so thin. He didn’t quite understand anything we were saying. We got him straight to the hospital. He died on July 24, 2016, at 9:48 AM. I was holding him in my arms. The days and months to follow were the darkest, most confusing, hurtful, hollow days of my life. Still somehow – I am here.
The following March of 2017, my husband’s mother passed away in New York City at only 62 years of age. She was a big personality. A woman who birthed SIX children. A woman who lived for Christmas. My mother-in-law loved the holidays and her children and her grandchildren. She even wrapped the door to her apartment with wrapping paper. She gave a gift to everyone. She cooked on Christmas Eve, and everyone from everywhere was welcomed to come over and join in celebrating. She is greatly missed.
This year as my husband and I sat on the living room floor, staying up late, slicing off pieces of scotch tape, and chopping up long square pieces of wrapping paper… there was a deep sadness that filled the room. Our children were sleeping. They were so excited as all children are on Christmas Eve. But he and I were robotic.
Was this the last of the Christmases? Or had it already happened, a few years back, when my Dad was still alive – here with us – well enough to eat lots of cake and cookies and open up a package of socks he may have received as a present. He loved anything you would give him, and he’d spend a lot of time looking at it. A LOT OF TIME. (Gift giving and the holidays) Had it already happened when my mother in law was here and in the kitchen cooking baked ziti and rice and beans and wearing a Christmas sweater with her hair newly cut and dyed? Were those the last Christmases? And we didn’t even know it?
My husband and I packed all of Santa Amazon’s presents under the Christmas tree. Piles of them – one on top of another. We stood back, and we were semi-proud. But indifferent. My Mom was not around this year either. She stayed home, in her condo, “too grief-stricken to participate,” she said. Everyone experiences grief differently and year 2 hits some harder than the 1st year.
Christmas day was nothing like it used to be. We spent the morning watching our children tear open the presents and then my husband went back to bed. I cleaned everything up and sat alone and drank tea. We had nowhere to be. No need to shower, and put on my new Christmas clothes and perfume because we weren’t heading over to see my parents. You know – to deliver their presents to them. My Dad is gone, and my Mom wanted no visitors. We weren’t planning a FaceTime call to the East Coast to say Merry Christmas to my mother-in-law so she could show us all the gifts the kids gave her. She is no longer with us either.
So deep down in the pit of my stomach I know for sure there will be no more Christmases. No. Not like the ones we used to know. Not with the people we used to have. The ones we loved so very dearly. Or should I say – the ones who loved us so very dearly? These are facts. And this post-holiday grief could really bury me if I let it. But I won’t. Because my Dad and my mother-in-law would never want that. Spring will be here soon. And new Christmas traditions will start to poke their heads up and enchant us without us even knowing it. We have to make the best of all of it… “In case our days are numbered.”
We never know.