It was a crazy Christmas. I spent the night of the winter solstice in the ER with stomach pains and a doctor obsessed with the possibility I’d had a heart attack. For women, it sometimes manifests as stomach pain. My heart was fine, but it was a surreal night spent tied to an IV and heart monitor in a cold little bed watching feet move beyond the yellow curtain that divided my cubicle from the rest of the emergency department.
As the pains subsided into my usual gastritis-acid reflux-IBS-too much stress gut ache, they gave me something called a “GI cocktail” and sent me home at 4:45 a.m. I drove myself both ways. It was a clear night, bright under the full moon, with no other cars around. I turned on the radio. NPR’s nighttime jazz came on, and I felt glad to be alive and free.
Later, standing outside in the dark watching Annie relieve herself, I cried from the fear I had felt and the emptiness where a loved one should have been, waiting and worrying, keeping me company as I have done so many times at so many hospitals for my husband and our parents, as my children might have done if I had them. I had texted a friend from the hospital, but I didn’t tell any of my family until it was all over. They’re too far away to help.
That was the Saturday before Christmas. Christmas is a marathon for church workers. With the holiday falling on a Tuesday, that meant four days of Masses in a row with many hours at the piano leading our tiny choir through oh-so-many songs. If I don’t play “Away in a Manger” or “The First Noel” again for a while, that will be okay. My hurting stomach made it more challenging this year.
But here’s the weirdest thing that happened. Halfway through the early Christmas Eve Mass, our priest got sick. Stomach sick, the kind where you can’t stop throwing up. He left during Communion and came back to wrap up the Mass in a hurry. As we headed out to dinner, we all wondered what would happen with the “midnight Mass,” which happens at 10 p.m. at our church. Anyone who has had the stomach flu knows that when it hits, you can’t do anything until it subsides.
We found Father resting on the floor when we came back to church. He crawled to his feet, started to discuss options with my friend Sandy, our director of religious education, then broke off to run to the restroom to throw up. Nope, he couldn’t do the midnight Mass. What would we tell the crowd gathering in the sanctuary, many of whom only come to Mass on Christmas and Easter? This is a small town on the Oregon Coast. There are no other priests to fill in, especially on short notice. It would take a substitute priest at least an hour to get here, and they were all busy with their own parishes on Christmas Eve.
Sandy saved the night. She put on a white cassock and pulled together a prayer service, offering the parts of the Mass that a non-priest is allowed to do. We sang, and she led us through the readings, a Christmas meditation, prayers and Communion, using hosts that Father had already blessed. It was short but beautiful. I loved that a woman, the same woman who had spent the day before baking nine kinds of cookies for Christmas, was leading us in the oh-so-male Catholic Church. She was the only one with the training and experience to do it. I’m calling her Father Sandy now.
Our priest was back Christmas morning, worn but capable, surely glad that Christmas was almost over. He told us he was about to drive himself to the ER on Christmas Eve but knew the staff at the hospital would scold him for driving himself. Maybe. I drove myself three days earlier, and they didn’t seem to care.
The choir family had a wonderful dinner between Masses on Christmas Eve. I joined Sandy’s family on Christmas Day. I got lots of presents, including ones from the family which I finally had time to open on Christmas night. This year, the niece and nephew added to the loot, which made “Aunt Sue” happy—and weepy. I now have a framed photo of my niece to put where I can enjoy her pretty face.
At the end of Christmas Day, I was back on the love seat with my dog Annie, making phone calls to family and friends, telling them about my trip to the ER, about the priest, and about the mouse who has moved into my kitchen and seems especially fond of dog treats. It even chewed through the empty Milk-Bone box last night, leaving little bits of cardboard on my counter. I’m buying traps today. Like the priest, I am celibate and childless, living this strange, challenging and wonderful solo life here in the coastal forest.
So that’s my Christmas story. Please tell me yours in the comments. Did your families drive you crazy? Was it better than you expected? Did you struggle with nosy questions and with being around other people’s kids? Did you run away for the holidays? Did something weird or crazy happen? Please share.
6 thoughts on “Crazy Christmas for this Childless Writer”
I hope you feel better today. Keep the Uber phone number handy in case you have to get to the hospital again, which I hope not soon.
Christmas began on the 23rd when Chris, Stephen and Anna arrived in Tucson. I put the cookie tree together while Chris finished wrapping gifts and Anna explored Grandma’s house. Dinner was a big pot of chicken chowder, easy and made ahead. Christmas Eve is the day that John’s family gathers. There were about 25 of us (I never stopped long enough to count) for chili, tamales made by John’s daughter-in-law, and cookies made by Chris, Anna and me. Christmas morning, Anna and I were up early, waiting patiently for everyone else to rise. All our gifts were wonderful and gladly received. But the best gifts were each other.
Your Christmas sounds nice, Adrienne. I do feel better, but will be having some tests for ulcers and such. As for calling an Uber, there’s no such thing out here in the woods. But I could call my neighbor. Happy New Year to you and John.
It was okay for me. No better, no worse than every year.
Christmas lunch with the in-laws and hubby’s siblings and their children. I don’t interact with the children. His sister gives us a voucher for a restaurant as a present. We don’t buy for her, only the children. Kind of her really, but I hate going for the meal we get because we don’t have kids. The money that would have been spent on our children’s presents. I thanked her and said it would be nice if she and her partner came for the meal with us. She said nothing. They seem to have no interest in spending time with us.
We visited my elderly parents for a few days, too. It was pleasant. I don’t know how many more years they both will be with us.
New Years Eve tonight. I’m home in my PJs. It’s where I want to be. We were invited to a party with some friends of mine but I didn’t want to go. I don’t like New Year, all the happy wishes for a good year. Every year is the same, no new starts at new schools for growing children or any other sorts of positive growth for us.
We have been making some plans for holidays and short trips though.
Overall, I am looking forward to getting back to my usual weekly activities. I enjoy them. Its when they stop and you realise there isn’t much else that it is hard.
Hope your health improves, Sue.
Thanks, Jenny. I am hopeful about the new year. I hope you find some new things to brighten up your days.
My goodness, Sue! What a crazy holiday season you had. I’m glad you are okay. I’m in awe of your friend Sandy who saved midnight Mass. How impressive!
Our holiday season was strange. I’d committed myself to a long-term project that ended up being far more work than I expected. It ended the weekend before Xmas. Between that and our work, Xmas breezed by somewhat uneventfully. We attended Mass, but our church attendance has been rare since summer. Mass on Xmas didn’t feel special – more like an obligation.
Before Thanksgiving, I extended an olive branch to my one awful sister-in-law. It felt good to be released of that hurt. Nothing there will ever likely improve, but I made an effort that I’m proud of and I’m at peace and no longer think of the things she said to hurt us. Ending that chapter has made me review my bond with the rest of my husband’s family. My bitterness has ended and now I’m left with the reality of knowing that we don’t fit in. We’ve tried but we just don’t. And this family is too much like high school with cliques and “popular” ones. Even a few bullies. We’ll still attend family parties and keep the connection but we’re done playing the game.
I’m starting 2019 off a little disheartened. A health issue has presented itself. And plenty of tests. I’m probably going to be okay but it’s going to be a long road. I’ve told a few friends and I’m sad to say that I’m hearing the chirping of crickets. No “how are you doing” texts. No displays of real concern. My husband cares. My mother is praying novenas for me. My mother-in-law is lighting candles. But no one else. And since I consider myself to be a loving, considerate person with lots of friends – I’m a little surprised and hurt that no one I’ve opened up to is invested enough to check in.
A real estate and business opportunity for my husband has also presented itself. An exciting time for us but stressful with financial obligations. Plus dealing with very conservative parents who don’t want us to take the risk. Making changes in where we call home. Putting our hopes and dreams out there and knowing that financially – they might not happen.
So 2019 is my year to really dig into being authentic and purposeful. My faith, my relationships, the level of our commitment to our families, how and where we live. How I do business. All of it. I find myself starting and ending my day with prayers of gratitude and my list of blessings is long. But my life needs to change.
Wow. It sounds like big changes are coming, and I applaud your courage. Like you, I am facing tests and a health issue. Most people don’t know about it. God willing, it will turn out to be something relatively ordinary that I can deal with. A couple people do ask how I’m doing, and I know my dad is frightened for me, but I have cried a few tears over not having anyone close to help me. May we both find health and happiness in 2019.