December 18, 2020

A “Mary” Christmas

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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Why hello again. I hope everyone is coping well during these wild holiday and pandemic times. For my holiday post this year I am going to tell you about a very special Christmas I had two years ago. I haven’t made a typo in my title; I did this intentionally because I am going to tell you about my Grandma Mary’s final Christmas and the lessons she left behind.  

In non-pandemic days on Christmas my family would always get together with my Dad’s brother’s family and before my Grandma passed away, she would always join us too. We would usually do our own Christmas mornings and then meet for a cocktail hour, dinner, cookies and sleep over until Boxing Day.  As usual, on this year our Grandma (my Dad’s mom) joined us, but it wasn’t a typical Christmas for her. She was very, very sick. Grandma was deep into her journey of battling a belly full of cancer. She had already finished lots of chemo and already decided never to do it again. She was just going to live as long as her illness would allow.  

This being said, Christmas was definitely a worry for her – we had to drive across the city, sleep in a new bed, and be away from her doctors and nurses. My Grandma was a worrier, so there is no doubt this was stressful for her. Along with being a worrier, however, my Grandma was a fierce believer in the importance of family. This is why she always enjoyed a good ol’ cocktail hour. Every time we would go visit Gram, even when she was sick, she would always have snacks and drinks for everyone. I know this was because snacks and drinks meant that people would stay a while and enjoy time together. To this day – cocktail hour is an important tradition in my family, not just for the snacks, but more for the company.  

So, despite the worry, because family was so important for Gram and her future was pretty unclear, she packed her bags and drove up with my family to my Uncle’s house for Christmas. And let me tell you, this Christmas couldn’t have been better. She was feeling as well as she could have, everyone was in good spirits; we laughed, we ate, we cried, we ate again, we loved, and we laughed some more. It was perfect. Grandma was surrounded by all the most important people in her life and we all soaked up every last second of what was assumingely Gram’s last Christmas with us here on earth. 

We couldn’t have asked for a better day. I will feel forever grateful for this day and how Gram’s last big hurrah on earth was nothing short of perfect.  It was perfect because Gram was in her glory; surrounded by her family, and family was Gram’s thing.

This evening is even extra special to look back on because there is no way Gram was actually feeling well with a diagnosis such as hers. This means for the sake of her family she put on a strong face to enjoy one last Christmas with her beloved people. After Gram passed, someone who had been chatting with her in her final days, told us that Gram had always said she never wanted to look weak in front of her grandkids. She wanted her grandkids to know she could be strong in the face of a harsh diagnosis. She wanted to teach us to be strong; and that she did. Gram didn’t hide her sickness, but she never complained about it. She simply was going to make the best of whatever cards life dealt her because one cannot make cancer simply disappear, so she was bound and determined to make the best of this less-than-ideal situation. This was all to teach us that life is scary and hard, but we mustn’t worry about things we can’t control. This is why Gram drove with a hammer in her car; for if she was to be fully submerged in water, she would be able to break her car window and escape. She could control this. This is why she never turned her television off (only turned the volume down); so, she would never risk pressing the wrong button. Again, this gave her control. This is why she wrote literally everything down on recipe cards (and usually not recipes). So, if her memory every failed her she would have this written list of instructions to help her out. This was something she could control. Cancer, on the other hand, she really didn’t have much control over. Sure, she did treatments and everything one with cancer is supposed to do – but in the grand scheme of things – she had little control. For a woman full of worries, cancer took away her control; she couldn’t carry a tool or recipe card of instructions to get rid of it. She had to gracefully give up control. Cancer diagnosis or not – Gram always relished each second with her family. We can’t control everything in this life – we can control our mindsets, the love we give others, and the time we make for our loved ones and Gram did this so well.  

As expected, after Christmas, Gram’s health started to decline pretty quickly. She passed away two weeks later. It was a sad and the hardest goodbye. But a comforting goodbye because we got a beautiful night with her and surrounded her with love. She knew she was leaving behind a family who would never pass up a cocktail hour. She instilled the importance of family in us and she knew that. As I kissed Gram on the head for the final time the night before she passed, when she was barely awake, I felt really lucky to have her and for all she taught me about family.  

On this weird Christmas, when we can’t all be together, don’t use this pandemic as an excuse not to see your special people. You might not be able to physically be together, you can still be together. Hop on a Zoom call and share drinks and good company virtually. Call your family and remind them that they are special to you. Drop off some doorstep goodies. Send a card. Send a video. Send pictures. As much as this pandemic would have stressed my Gram out, she would have had me send her a recipe card of instructions on how to log onto Zoom if it meant she could see her people. She would have preferred to see us in person, but if that wasn’t possible, she would have made it work. She would have preferred to not be sick, but she made it work. Can we control the pandemic? Not really. So, as Gram taught us, there is no sense in letting it get us down. 

And when we can be together again, we will never ever, ever, take a second with our family or chosen family for granted. Because every second we get to spend together is the most special gift of all.  I could not tell you what gifts were wrapped under the tree for me that year. I could not tell you what I bought as gifts that year. But I can tell you that Gram was sitting on that living room couch in her glory. Gram throughout her life always made her family the upmost priority and she built a pretty damn strong one – because she was never too busy for family, she was never too tired for family, she was never too sick for family.

So, if we feel up to it and our circumstances allow, we should connect with people we love this holiday season, however that may look. I know Gram is up there, wishing she could spend another Christmas with her people. So, let’s make her proud. Let’s make the best of our circumstances and do Christmas in 2020 fashion – in a weird but lovely way. Let’s be together while we are apart. Let’s relish each distant second we can spend together. Because one day these people might not be here to talk ton Zoom. Or to receive your phone call. Or to open your letter.

Never take a second of time together for granted – even if this time together is virtual. 2020 taught us that life is so uncertain and we mustn’t waste any time we can spend with our people.

Be well this holiday season friends. Take care of yourself. Take care of your people. 

You will hear from me again in the new year! 

xx Liza 

Liza McClelland

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  1. Michelle Brotherton says:

    Liza thanks for reminding f me how special Momma Mary was. I feel blessed by your words in this moment, just as I was blessed by knowing her. There is a lot of her in each of you

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My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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