Richard Connor: Nearby or distant, still together at Christmas

Photo by Koushik Chowdavarapu on Unsplash

A year ago, almost to the day, a close relative was hovering near death, dying from cancer on the East Coast while in the mountains of Colorado my 19-year-old daughter was undergoing surgery to repair a traumatic injury with multiple broken bones in her leg and ankle.

Waiting for the surgery to end, I sensed I should phone the dying relative. We had a warm and humorous talk. As it ended I was hoping he did not know I was weeping. He was not. He died shortly after the call.

My daughter had been training for the Olympic Trials in half-pipe snowboarding. She had won a national championship two years earlier and was world-ranked. After she emerged from five hours of surgery followed by six hours in recovery we heard a detailed description of her injuries from the surgeon. It was clear her snowboarding career was over and rehabilitation would be both painful and long.

Christmas lay just days ahead. A funeral awaited two days after Christmas.

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We made the best of it in our family. My daughter was in constant pain and discomfort and could not sleep. There was nothing we could do to relieve her suffering but be there. The rest of the family was grieving.

Our salvation came from being together and celebrating the holidays in spite of the troubles.

We had each other and that was enough. We did our best.

As we faced this holiday and the fears of COVID, my daughter aptly said, “Well, nothing could be worse than last Christmas.”

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Some might call it a toss-up. We all live in different cities, different parts of the country. We’ve decided to stay put, not travel, and not take the risks involved to ourselves or the risk that we might unwittingly be the source of COVID to a family member.

Isolation and social distancing will take on new meaning and clearly we will have a degree of sadness. We’ll appreciate even more that despite the grim Christmas last year we still had each other and could spend the holidays together.

There will be a Zoom or two and in my family we do our best to blunt seriousness and emotion with humor. So, we’ll laugh and do what we did last year. We’ll do our best.

We will stop to reflect on the truly wonderful life our relative lived and recall how courageously and without complaint he fought cancer to the end. We’ll remember his boundless optimism and generosity of spirit and his unquenchable – right until the end – intellectual thirst for knowledge.

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We’ll marvel at the former pro snowboarder who just recorded straight A’s in her first semester in college and has turned her sights to political activism. And we will be thankful she can walk like a normal person and without a limp despite a leg and ankle held together with two plates and many metal screws.

More importantly, perhaps, we’ll privately appreciate the irony that our decision to stay apart was more an act of love than deciding to be together.