We didn’t know it was our last Christmas, of course. Michael and I had decided to sell our Portland, Oregon home and relocate to the coastal village of Ajijic, Mexico, in the coming year. And because we knew it would probably be a couple of years before we’d make it back to the US, there was a bittersweetness to the hall-decking, present-wrapping days before our annual pilgrimage to the McManus Family farm for our usual week-long celebration of the holiday.
After about twenty trips lugging suitcases, presents, and other bits of flotsam down the two staircases and one stoop of our three-story townhouse, we managed to wedge our 10-pound Pomchi Adele somewhere in the wreckage and make the nearly thirty-mile drive to Sandy.
Mike’s mother, Nell, once characterized the rambling ranch house with its eye-popping views of a snow-wrapped Mount Hood as the perfect place to be trapped in a winter storm, and she was right.
A couple of days into the holiday movie viewing, Rook playing, overeating mayhem, Michael woke from his afternoon nap in pain that wouldn’t go away. We both suspected it was another gallbladder attack, but this time the torment refused to subside after the requisite twenty minutes.
Having been through a slew of health crises with my husband, I soon found myself riding in the back of another ambulance, traveling nearly twenty miles to the nearest hospital while assuring him that everything was going to be okay. At least this probably doesn’t have anything to do with his heart, I thought.
After spending endless hours in the emergency room of the small Mount Hood Medical Center, Mike was admitted and finally given enough pain killer to calm him. I heaved a sigh of relief when we got confirmation that his gallbladder was the culprit, kissed him on the forehead, and got back to the McManus family home a little after midnight.
Christmas morning was a rollercoaster of emotion that kept everyone off kilter. Mike called and told me not to bother with a hospital visit, assuring me that his doctor said he was fine and would be released at some point during the day. “I’ll be home for Christmas dinner,” he said.
After many bulletins from Michael and a corresponding succession of dinner delays, the family had gathered around the loaded table when we got another call from the patient. The doctor had just informed him that, after looking at his white blood count, his numbers were far too high, and he had to have his gall bladder removed first thing in the morning.
I could hear the crushing disappointment in Mike’s voice as he said the words, and the joy I’d felt only seconds before was replaced by overwhelming sadness. Breaking the news to his family, I took the phone into the guest room so that Michael and I could talk in private.
After telling me that everything was going to be okay and that I should spend the evening with our family and come to the hospital early the next morning to see him before surgery, I burst into disappointed tears. “I can’t believe it,” I said between sniffles, “This is the first Christmas in twenty-two years that we won’t be together.”
“I know,” he said, swallowing hard, “But we’ll see each other tomorrow, and we can celebrate when I get home.”
My sister-in-law Lynn agreed to drive me to the hospital the next morning, and after seeing my groggy husband for precisely twenty minutes, he was wheeled down the hall to the operating room. Lynn and I spent a long day together in the nearly deserted hospital, waiting to hear news of Mike and talking about the ins and outs of our lives.
As darkness signaled the waning daylight hours of Christmas, we settled Michael into his hospital room, spending no time with him before we had to leave because of commitments Lynn had back home. After a quick kiss, I said Goodbye, promising to be there in the morning to bring Mike home.
Since everyone else had family obligations scattered across the country, we had the farm to ourselves during the days my husband convalesced between Christmas and the New Year. So, despite the disappointment and the drama of that fractured yule, we ended up having ourselves a merry little Christmas.
We watched holiday classics like Christmas in Connecticut, White Christmas, and It’s a Wonderful Life. We gorged ourselves on leftover turkey and dressing until I turned them into a delicious hash. Then we gorged ourselves on that. We talked and laughed and sat quietly, enjoying each other’s company.
Would we have done things differently if we’d known it would be our last Christmas? Probably. But I’m not sure that would’ve been the right thing to do. Maybe we had the perfect last Christmas after all.