(I don’t have much to say lately, but my little sister has been telling some of the interesting things that happened in her life. Here’s the first one she gave me, about our parents before they died. I lived through this via video chat from across the states.)
The year finally came. I began sharing my home with my aged parents and a close elderly family friend, whom I called “grandma”, so I could look out for their well-being on a daily basis.
One November, my father proclaimed his idea for the four of us to draw names out of a hat and buy that person a Christmas present. That way, we’d all receive something nice for Christmas and still stay within our budget. Grandma and I liked the idea, but my mother made it very clear to us that she wasn’t going to do anything for Christmas, and we shouldn’t, either. My mother had Alzheimer’s. In spite of her unreasonable bullying, Dad, Grandma, and I decided the three of us would do it and Mom just wouldn’t participate.
Christmas morning, the three of us gathered around the Christmas tree to open our gifts. Mom stayed in the other room watching television. Grandma opened her gift first. Being in her 90’s, she was slow and my father had to explain what her gift was. While they were engrossed in this, talking loudly because they were both hard of hearing, my mother suddenly entered the room, walked directly over to the tree, grabbed the present meant for me, and went back to her room.
Dad and Grandma completed their discussion, and Dad announced he wanted me to open my gift next. I told him that Mom had come and taken my gift and I handed him his gift to open. After my father had opened his gift, he told me to open mine, having forgotten what I’d said. Again, I told him that Mom had taken my present for herself.
“Well what did you let her go and do that for?” He exclaimed indignantly. “Go get it back!”
I went to my mother’s room, and she had just unwrapped my present and was admiring it, like a happy child. It was something my father had picked out with my approval to be sure I would enjoy my present.
I said, “Mom, that’s my present. You chose not to participate, remember?”
She said, “Well everyone should get a gift at Christmas time, and this is my gift!”
I returned to Dad empty-handed and angry. At that time, I didn’t understand Alzheimer’s or dementia and just felt that my 88-year old mother was a bully and a mean-spirited prankster.
“Well? Where is your gift?” Dad demanded.
“Mom won’t give me the present. She is determined to keep it,” I replied angrily.
At that moment my mother appeared again in the room and she and my dad began arguing over my present. By that time, Grandma was alarmed and loudly talked across them, asking me what was happening. I had to raise my voice so she could hear me over Dad and Mom. It appeared that all four of us were in a shouting match on Christmas morning in front of the Christmas tree. This was not what Christmas should be like! And none of us were giving in.
Finally, Dad took the present away from Mom’s hands and shoved it angrily at me. I was angry, because my mother stole a Christmas gift that was meant for me. Dad was angry because I had let her take it in the first place. Mom was angry because she didn’t get to keep my present. Grandma was angry because she was hard of hearing and nobody could explain what was going on loud enough.
We all separated silently to our individual rooms and shut the doors behind us. My mother had made sure that if she didn’t want Christmas, then we weren’t going to have Christmas, either.
All the joy and happiness that should accompany this holiday was successfully snuffed out. Over the years, Mom continued to fight me over putting Christmas decorations up, but I still did. We never exchanged gifts again for Christmas as long as Mom lived. Mom and Grandma passed away a few weeks apart a few short years later.
Looking back on it, it was funny. But at the time, Mom, in her dementia, believed I was an enemy and she had the need to control everyone, even in illogical ways. It was very sad.