My Mother’s Last Christmas

By Ed Decker

We lived on a beautiful mountain river in the Pacific Northwest, and nothing could be more beautiful than a snowy Christmas among the towering cedars. It was something like a miracle to be watching the snow fall around us as the kids ran amok through the backyard, rolling in the soft, powdery snow.

My mom stood by my side and sighed. “Once I was a little orphan girl who cried herself to sleep every night because my mother, father, and sister died and God wouldn’t take me. I had no one. Now look at me.”

It was impressive. She was among almost 40 of her offspring, spanning five generations. I gave her a big hug and held her frail body in my arms for a long, long while. She had tears in her eyes when I finally loosened my grip and let her breathe.

Mom had set fire to the small condo where she had lived with Dad for 20 years. She insisted on staying there alone for 10 years since Dad died. But the fire had ended that, and Mom was now living in an adult care facility.

We had brought her to our home after the accident and moved her into the first floor guest suite. The third morning I found her waiting in the kitchen, in her full dress and coat, with gloves on, wearing one of her many hats. “A parent is not supposed to live with her children. Now take me to that place you showed me the other day,” she said. I did.

Today was our family Christmas gathering. Wheeling her in from the deck, I stomped the snow from off my shoes and worked our way into the family room, fighting hugs from everyone, finally settling Mom in front of the fireplace with its massive river rock wall. I covered her with a throw blanket, and we waited for the call to the annual Christmas meal.

The meal itself was a marvel, prepared and served by a dozen strong-willed wives, daughters, and granddaughters with a few husbands who were there for the grunt work.

Laughter filled the whole house throughout the meal and, when we finally made our way into the living room past the 15-foot Christmas tree that filled the front entry hall, all eyes were on the massive pile of Christmas gifts in the center of the room.

I settled Mom in the wheelchair next to me in a corner area where she wouldn’t be trampled but could be in the middle of the action.

The kids all hugged and mobbed her until she was half buried in wrapping paper. Then someone stuck a package bow on her sweater, and she was soon covered with them. She was so frail, but she squealed and laughed with every bow.

Tears steamed from her face and she quietly reached over and squeezed my hand, grinning like a child. I will never forget that precious look when her eyes met mine.

My wife, Carol, and I tried to get Mom to stay overnight, but she would have none of that. It had turned dark by the time I wheeled her to the car and pulled out into that snowy night, the heavy falling snow dancing in the headlights. It was like a winter wonderland as I drove down the winding country road along the river.

I treasured that time alone in the car with Mom as I drove her back to the care center. She placed her hand on top of mine and smiled at me all the way. We weren’t talking much, just holding hands and connecting deep inside in our hearts.

Mom passed away several months later, just a few weeks before her 90th birthday. I got there just minutes after she passed. She still had that smile on her face, and I sat there with her for a long while and felt the peace that surrounded her. It was that same peace that filled the car on that last drive home on Christmas Day.

We held a memorial service at the town’s senior center, where she had been the receptionist and Sunshine Lady for 16 years. We placed a few dozens of her famous hats around the room, and the ladies who knew and loved her were all smiles as they left with one of Anna’s “ladies hats” perched on their heads.

I was a momma’s boy from start to finish but, of all our special times together, I will never forget my mother’s last Christmas.

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