The Last Christmas

Do not wish for sun, for this may be the last snow.
Do not wish for spring, for this may be the last winter.
Spring will come soon enough,
But this could be the last Christmas.

I typed those lines as we drove from Bettendorf to Grundy Center last weekend, from my father’s house to my mother’s, where I’d be seeing my nephew but not his father.

This will be another Christmas that my brother Jay spends in jail, what we can only assume will be one of many. As we traversed Iowa on Interstate 80, I found myself remembering the last Christmas that Jay spent with our family, just a couple of weeks before his arrest and our worlds as we know ending.

I was in Florida.

We had decided not to come home that year for Christmas. There would be other Christmases, we assumed, and we were tired of being the ones to fork over thousands of dollars to visit every year. Truth be told, we didn’t make the trip in part to prove a point, out of bitterness and resentment that we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to admit. We felt that we had made more of an effort – financially and otherwise – to maintain relationships with people back home than what had been given in return. We’d made more trips home, bought more airplane tickets, spent more hours in the car, and used more vacation days from work.

At the time we made excuses about money and wanting to spend Christmas morning in our own home. While there was certainly some truth to those arguments, it wasn’t the whole truth. The resentment was there, and we let it keep us away.

There would be more Christmases, more trips. This one we could spare to make a point.

While Jared and I drove the kids around to look at Christmas lights that year, my mom sent me a video of she and my brothers singing Christmas carols to me. It would be the last Christmas memory I would have of my oldest brother, the last for a very long time at least.

A video text is small comfort now, an insufficient memory to hold me over for what might be decades.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have spent the money for the memories. I would have worried less about what others gave and focused more on making sure I was giving everything I had before the chance to give was gone. I would have thrown myself into that last Christmas, if only I had known.

But we never know.

So often we spend our lasts – last kisses, last days, last holiday moments – distracted by the prospect of something better. We wait for warmer weather, hope for better circumstances, and completely miss the opportunity to wrap our arms around each other one more time.

In a few days, if I’m lucky, our families will celebrate Christmas together. We’ll open gifts, eat, and go through the motion of tradition. But more than that, we’ll hug, touch, kiss, and laugh. We’ll look into each other’s eyes and have the chance to tell one another how we feel. We’ll say, “thank you” and “I love you.”

I’ll be doing everything I can to make the most of this Christmas, always knowing that this could be our last.

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  1. the muskrat says:

    Can y'all visit him at least? I hope so. I have a friend in jail this Christmas, too. For having a bit of pot, of all things. He gets out in March after being there 9 mos.

  2. So beautiful and full of truth. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you for reminding me to slow down and enjoy mine.

  3. angi says:

    "I would have worried less about what others gave and focused more on making sure I was giving everything I had before the chance to give was gone. I would have thrown myself into that last Christmas, if only I had known." These words spoke to me, Britt. As I've gotten older, Christmas has truly become about the giving. I long to find the perfect gift for those that I love and never worry about my own wish list. I get joy out of knowing that I've created Christmas memories for my kids that I pray they hold dear forever. We never know when the chance to give of ourselves will be gone and so we should live like it's always our last Christmas.

  4. Megan says:

    A great illustration of the importance of living in the moment. xo

  5. beautiful.carpe diem, indeed.

  6. Rachel says:

    So poignant and true. Thank you for sharing your truth. Wishing you peace, this Christmas and always.

  7. Nyt says:

    One of the things that has been uttered in my house this season is "how many more?" Every time we're stretched financially, emotionally, physically, we ask ourselves "how many more?". Every time our patience wears thin or we find one more thing that needs to be done, the question always comes up. "How many more?" Your soul gets forever, the rest of you has a finite amount of time. So "how many more??? Never enough. When it comes to those you love, there will never be enough…. of anything…

  8. Will says:

    Merry Christmas to You Britt – I love your blog I think you should add some quotes about Happiness too.

  9. Poppy says:

    The only people "from Vermont" who have visited me since I've moved to NYC are ones who also left home base for greener-to-them pastures. That'd be my mom and stepdad who left Vermont while I still lived there. I was devastated by their departure from Vermont, and it took me several years before I went to visit them in Florida. Now that I have moved too we see each other much more, either in NYC or Tennessee where they now live. I am not the people back in Vermont, but I get the feeling that they think "you left us, it's your job to visit." Fair or not.And it's not the same, but I had always saved seeing my paternal grandmother for "another visit home" and now she has passed away and I can't ever visit her again, so I kind of empathize, but it's not the same.

  10. Your words are so poignant and true. I have a brother, too. Not in jail, but that may be by grace rather than by good judgement. Being the bigger person doesn't always feel better, but we hardly ever regret it. Thank you for your message, hard-won experience though it is for you. I send you Merry Christmas wishes. And hugs.

  11. Naomi says:

    True words. We have the same discussion (it feels like it is always us who makes the journey …) but in reality it SHOULD be always us … because otherwise shame ON us for missing out on the memories.Thanks for sharing – as always.

  12. Audra says:

    Thank you for this Britt. A month ago yesterday my colleagues and I had a really nice lunch together in the teachers lounge at school to celebrate Jim's student teacher's last day. Jim made all of us madelines. Later that afternoon my friend Jim showed up at my door in to talk to me during my conference period. I was cranky about the same stupid stuff I perseverate on when I'm feeling sorry for myself and was'n't very friendly. Two hours later he was in a terrible car crash on his way to pick his children up from school and is in a coma. I so wish I had at least wished him a Happy Thanksgiving.

  13. Loukia says:

    Oh, Britt. Thanks for this reminder. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with amazing memories. xoxo

  14. Ann says:

    It isn't easy for those of us who know how important memories are. I had many losses as a child, and so I crave family…my kids haven't had those losses, so they don't think being home for a holiday, for example, is important.. Sigh..And I hate the advice columnists who seem to think making yourself 'happy' is the critical condition for deciding whether or not to attend a family affair. Wishing you a great holiday season…

  15. MsBoyink says:

    Thanks for the post. Traditionally we've celebrated Christmas day with my extended family. This year we celebrated early due to my mother's mid-December surgery. We'd been invited to join my sister at her house on Christmas day, but we decided to not go — it will a chaotic gathering and I kinda like my quiet ;) Your post reminded me that life is too short for this pettiness. I just called my sister to let her know we're planning to drive to her town to join the family celebration.Have a wonderful Christmas holiday with your family.

  16. Sheila says:

    Last Wednesday, I stopped at my mom's house while I was out her way running errands. I was crabby because I had so much to do and so little time. I actually complained about the dinner she made, even though the only reason she cooked was because I was going to be in the area and had the kids with me. She didn't want me to have to go home and cook. She, however, wasn't feeling so great herself. She told us she was coming down with the flu. I rushed out of the house to get the kids home and in bed, knowing that I was going to see her the next day when I was in her area yet again.The next morning I got a call that she was in ICU. The next day she was brain dead. The next day we said our final goodbyes and the machines were turned off.Yesterday, we buried her.There is never enough time. Never.

  17. sheila, there is absolutely nothing i can say to ease your pain, but i really wanted to thank you for sharing your story. my heart aches for your loss. praying for you and your family, becky

  18. Sheila says:

    Thank you, Becky….we appreciate it!

  19. Chris says:

    Beautifully written! (sighs) sounds like my life.Good Luck on your journey. Love reading all about them!Happy New Year to you and the family.

  20. Since our 2nd child was born and we learned that both our kids had a life-threatening kidney disease that would (and did) lead to kidney failure I've tried to practice this…to do it now, now later, especially when it involves being together. Because our kids lives are fragile we also try to do things we truly want to do — we don't say yes when we don't want to do it.

  21. karen says:

    I'm lucky… I guess. Last fall we got a head's up. A prognosis of maybe 6 months. My mother and I clung to each other. I wasn't ready for her to leave me. We planned the *best Christmas ever* and went to Toronto to visit my only sibling and my mother's best friend in the whole wide world. We made marvelous memory making plans… including a trip to the ballet; The Nutcracker, on Christmas Eve, for my mom and my daughter, her only grandchild. The plans all got stymied in one way or another though – my mother only made it to intermission before needing to rest… She got so much worse before our trip began, but my mother, not wanting to *ruin Christmas* soldiered on and I know she did it for us. For me. I know she did so much for me, because she knew just how broken I would be without her. As HARD as last Christmas was, we savored every millisecond. Even round the clock morphine dosing became a chance to revel in what we knew would be the last Christmas. It was oddly like 4 hour feedings, but without the promise. I ended up needing to bring her home early…. to die. She declined rapidly on boxing day after all that staying alive she was doing for all of us…. she slipped away from me a year ago tonight…. 12 hours after getting her home. This Christmas was so very painful. But I do think I'm fortunate to know last year was the last Christmas. I hope you find the way to forgive yourself. You couldn't have known. Good for you for choosing to live the rest of your Christmases like we all should. In regret, there are lessons and wisdom.

  22. Amy says:

    Sad but true. And why I plan on making 2012 the year I spend more time with my family who are so close but seemingly so far away.All the best to you and yours in 2012.

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