Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar: Deceased Relatives

I am writing this post in snowy Minnesota right now. My husband and I are visiting his family to celebrate a white Christmas, which is certainly something we wouldn't get in Texas or with my family in Arizona. I will certainly write more on my trip later, but I need to catch up on my Advent Calendar stuff.

It was rather ironic that the post for the 22nd was on deceased relatives when that happens to be my grandmother's birthday. I called to interview her about her relatives on the 21st because I didn't want her to start her birthday on a somewhat melancholy note.

It turns out that my grandmother has two people whose deaths affected the holiday season. The first and most notable for my grandmother was her Aunt Eliza. My grandmother lived with her aunt after her mother passed away when she was four months old. This aunt raised her until she was 12 years old and most of my grandmother's previous stories reference her. Although Aunt Eliza died in the summer, her death impacted that year's Christmas. My grandmother went to live with her aunt Carrie in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Aunt Carrie understood how tough it must have been for my grandmother and her siblings to leave their "mother" so she tried to compensate during Christmas time. Aunt Carrie asked for plenty of input from the kids about their previous Christmas traditions. She made all of the same food and bought plenty of gifts. The kids had so many presents and different kinds of food that it turned out to be a wonderful Christmas. They really enjoyed themselves that year. Aunt Carrie successfully carried out a Christmas that allowed all of the children to enjoy every last moment and not experience the sadness that seemed pending.

When my grandmother was all grown up and married with kids her father passed away on New Year's Eve. She knew he was sick, but she had no idea that he was terminally ill. He died from cancer at age 59. My grandmother never really got the chance to live with her father and get to know him except for a few months when she was in her late teens. After her mother died her father remarried a woman who did not want his children around, so they were shipped off to family who would take them in. When he died my grandmother received a phone call from her sister notifying her of his death. They didn't really do too much to remember him except talk on the phone together. She didn't cry and she didn't dwell on things that she could not change. She accepted his unexpected death and continued on her with her life.

As I tried to extract the details of these deaths from grandmother's memory I found out about a key characteristic within my grandmother that allowed her to survive tough times. Optimism. Optimism keeps my grandmother from getting bogged down by events. She doesn't dwell or lament that which she cannot change. I suppose her ability to live in the present and her unfaltering optimism in all that she does helps her get through some of the tough things that she has endured. I never even realized the difficulties that she encountered throughout her life. She doesn't tell her stories as if things may have been difficult or trying. She always looks back with fondness and optimism. When I try to press her about feelings or difficulties she brushes me off and says "Natasha, you can't dwell on that sort of stuff, you acknowledge it and continue on, but you don't dwell."

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