Why I Hate "The Christmas Shoes"It's December, 2003. Christmas preparations are well underway and our shopping is going swimmingly. I'd picked out a luxurious, crimson, velvet jogging suit for my ailing mother. Perfect for lounging around in a cold, old farm house, not to mention the color will look great on her and it will bring pink to her wan cheeks. Mom is semi-bedridden, so the majority of her time is spent lounging. When she does get up and walk around (which she does faithfully as often as she can, or as often as my dad can talk her into it), she puts on her sturdy clodhoppers, takes firm hold of her walker, and makes a few laps around the house. I can just see her sporting that fabulous new suit (under her thick sweater), pushing on and persevering against the odds.
We aren't much of a phone-talking family, so when my sister Jeanette calls, we suspect troubles. (Jeanette seems to be the one who always calls with the bad news – and I love her for accepting this "calling" she's been gifted with.)
Jeanette tells me that mom's taken a bad turn, and if I can come home, I probably should.
I've been given this news once before after a scheduled surgery didn't have the expected results, so I convince myself it's another "false alarm." But I want to be there again, so I make immediate arrangements and arrive in Iowa in the middle of the night. My brother-in-law picks me up at the airport and at 3:30 am, I arrive at my mom's hospital bedside.
This is no false alarm.
I'd like to say I was holding her hand at the end, but, being the last to arrive, the only space left is a corner at her feet. My family has a chair waiting there for me. So I clutch a limp foot as I watch my mom's life ebb away and the monitors flatline. (Kudos to Iowa City Medical Center – they've muted the beep-beep-beep they know will inevitably whiiiiinnne when her body shuts down.)
The details of the arrangements are probably routine to anyone who has been through this ... except for one thing: choosing Mom's outfit for her burial. The dress isn't too hard to pick out (she didn't have many) and we find stockings without too many snags and some not-to-terribly-worn undergarments, but…. see… the thing is … she has no nice shoes. All we manage to round up are three pairs of those ugly clodhoppers that helped her to walk laps around the house. So we choose the "nicest" pair and add them to the bag for the funeral director. Yep, these are the shoes she'll be wearing when she meets Jesus.
But the thing is, after I accept it, I don't let that detail bother me. That was Mom after all. Those were her shoes. And she's not really wearing them. Those ugly shoes will shod only an empty tent. Mom is already dancing with Jesus while she sings (off key) with the angels. I'm good. I'm perfectly fine with it.
I hear the most cruel and inhumane Christmas song ever recorded.
And I was broken.
"…Daddy says there's not much time, you see she's been sick for quite a while, and I know these shoes would make her smile. And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight."
" Mama made Christmas good at our house, Though most years she just did without. Tell me Sir, what am I going to do, somehow I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes."
Are you KIDDING me? Come on, just take a sledge hammer to my head. Better yet, why not a sharp knife to cut the heart right out of my chest?
And that's why I've gone so far as to get out of the shower, drip soapy water across my bathroom floor, and risk electrocution to change the radio station when this Christmas dirge comes on.
(endnote: I gifted my dear mother-in-law with the gorgeous velvet jogging suit, and a heartfelt explanation of its original recipient and why I wanted M-I-L to have it, even though I knew the arms and legs would need to be hemmed. (I inherited my mom's lanky legs and monkey arms.)
When I married her son, BJ became my "other mother", and I love her as her daughter. Since Mom #1 wouldn't need it, I hoped Mom #2 would accept the gift, along with all the love intended.)
"God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes." Psalm 18:24 (Msg)