Christmas with Mom

christmasThe Crum family Christmas spirit this year could best be summed up with a hearty, “Bah, humbug.” One of our dearest friends died this year, Tony is recovering from his fourth major surgery in less than two years, and my mother is in the late stages of dementia, meaning this will probably be her last Christmas. Our decorating consisted of buying a tiny live tree from Home Depot that I’m pretty sure is mostly dead now. Our shopping consisted of replacing the refrigerator that died right after Thanksgiving, along with the microwave that died a week later. So it’s Christmas, and we aren’t feeling it. I plan to cook our traditional roast beef dinner and visit my mom. That’ll be the extent of our holiday cheer.

For those who don’t know, my mother lives in an assisted living home here in town. She’s almost 91, and over the past decade dementia has taken most of what made her, well, *her*. Her body, however, keeps humming along, seemingly oblivious to the fact that her brain left the building sometime in the late oughts. I visit her, of course, a ritual I have come to dread. Each time I wonder what new piece of her the disease will have taken. At least she still knows who I am–most of the time. Today being Christmas, of course I will visit. So I stick a Santa hat on my head, paste a smile on my face, and clomp up the stairs to do my filial duty. Tony, ever the supportive husband, tags along.

We walk into a Hallmark card. Christmas tree bedecked with lights and candy canes next to a cozy fire with snowflakes falling softly outside the windows and a Hallmark Christmas movie on the TV. It checks every box on the American Christmas fantasy list. Martha Stewart would be proud. Almost grudgingly, I admit to myself that maybe we should have made a bit more of an effort at home.

I get out my knitting, and my mother and I attempt what passes for conversation these days.

“How have you been, Mom?”

“Oh, fine.”

I start knitting and listening to the Hallmark movie.

“I’m so glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you too, Mom.”

LeeAnn Rimes is the female lead in the movie. Some generic clean-cut businessman-type guy is her love interest.

“I’m so glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you too, Mom.”

LeeAnn sings some made-for-the-movie Christmas song. I don’t catch many of the lyrics, but her voice rings clear and powerful through the scene. The woman’s got some pipes. I wish I could sing like that.

“How are things at home?”

“Oh, not bad.” I tell her about Tony’s latest surgery–again. It’s been less than 15 minutes since the first time, but she’s forgotten. She probably forgot about three seconds after I told her. I tell her about our son’s upcoming trip to Portland.

LeeAnn sings. LeeAnn tells her fictional love interest she’s turned down a job across the country to stay in their fictional town. He looks appropriately lovestruck.

“I’m so glad to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you too, Mom.”

Someone else in the movie is singing now. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.”

Tears prick the corners of my eyes. “Silent Night” has always been my favorite Christmas song. So many memories. Playing it on my flute for middle school concerts, singing it to my son as a lullaby when he was small enough not to care that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

“Round yon virgin…”

I hear my mother’s voice, almost a croak, more chanting than singing, so quiet I doubt anyone else in the room can hear over the person warbling on the TV.

“Mother and child.”

I join in. I sound almost as croaky as she does, forcing the notes past the lump in my throat. How long has it been since my mother and I sang together? 40 years? 45?

“Holy infant so tender and mild.”

I wipe the tears away quickly, hoping no one sees.

“Sleep in heavenly peace.”

We manage one more off-key line of our impromptu duet before the movie cuts away from the song, and the moment is gone like a snuffed-out candle flame. I fish around in my purse for a tissue and wipe my eyes as unobtrusively as I can. I blow my nose and mumble something about allergies.

“It’s so nice to see you.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Mom. Merry Christmas.” And I mean it with all my heart.

9 thoughts on “Christmas with Mom

  1. Merry Christmas Janet. I am sorry that your mom suffers from dementia and that you are having to deal with this terrible disease. My mom passed away in October 2015 from dementia. That being said, I had actually lost her years prior to that. I took care of her at home, she begged me not to send her away. It was absolutely the most difficult and heart wrenching thing I have ever done. Towards the end, my mom did not know who I was. She went days without any lucidity. The end was devastating to me, even though I knew it was coming. She had signed an Advance Directive less than a month before her passing so I did have the comfort of knowing that she wanted to go when it was time. I will pray for you, your mom and your family to find comfort and peace with what you are all experiencing at this time.


    1. Sharon, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. We took care of Mom at home for as long as we could. Moving her to a care home was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. and I so wish we hadn’t had to. Dementia is such a cruel disease.


  2. Thank you for sharing. Mom has been gone 3 Christmas’s now. And every year I’m more used to her being gone. But I don’t miss her any less. I love you cousin! Forever and always.


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