It’s that time of year again. Time for celebrating the birth of Jesus and giving gifts to those we love and those less fortunate. Time for trimming trees and making merry with family and friends. Pictures with Santa, baking cookies and singing carols. Time for Christmas plays and tree lighting ceremonies, parties and family traditions. And a time to remember Christmases past.
When I was a little girl, I would make Christmas ornaments out of popsicle sticks, construction paper, glue and glitter. It didn’t matter what I created, my parents treasured my handiwork and proudly displayed it on our tree. They didn’t seem to care about misspelled words, pieces that didn’t line up just right, excess glue or the lopsided nature of the ornament. They cherished my creation simply because I made it and I made it for them.
Several years ago, my parents opted for an artificial tree rather than a live one to make life simpler. So a few days after Thanksgiving, my Father would bring the tree down from the attic along with boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations so Mom could work her magic and make the house merry and bright. But the tree was my Father’s domain. He loved putting things together and the tree was no exception. He would line up all the branches, grouped by their color-coded tips and assemble them from the bottom up.
As my parents grew older, the tasks changed hands a bit so that Dad no longer climbed into the attic or lifted anything heavy. He still dutifully ferried decorations into the living room, always offering to carry more. Then we would assemble the tree stand and he would help lay out the branches and then align each one in its proper place, like pieces of a puzzle.
Unfortunately, puzzle pieces can be a landmine for someone with Alzheimer’s. Their perception of the world around them is constantly changing. The daily puzzles of their lives, where pieces came together with ease, are now confusing. Maybe they put their hamburger on top of the bun instead of inside it or perhaps they are baffled by the remote control so they unplug the TV rather than turn it off. And once they’ve finished the puzzle, it often doesn’t look quite like it should.
A couple of years ago, the tree and all the Christmas decorations had been brought down from the attic but hardly anything had been put in place. The tree stand was assembled and the pole had been mounted, but very few branches had made their way to the tree. I imagine Charlie Brown would’ve loved it.
I had just gotten home from work and was walking into the living room when I noticed a huge gaping hole in the middle of the tree. Top and bottom branches were in place, but the gap in the middle was so big my Dad just waved at me through it.
We finished the tree that evening, and I couldn’t help but notice the branches were all over the place. Short, medium and long branches were placed beside each other, with one or two missing completely.
It was like finding the corner pieces of a puzzle in the middle, rather than on the edge. And when I find something in disarray, my brain automatically sees the pieces out of order and where they need to go. At first, I wanted to try and fix the tree and reattach the branches in their proper place. But then I stopped and wondered how many more Christmases my Dad would even be able to help with the tree at all.
The fact that he had put the branches anywhere on the tree and had not gotten frustrated was a big deal. It was a puzzle and he put it together the best way he knew how. So, I left it the way it was.
I prized his offering much the same way he would prize my handmade ornaments from Christmases past. I really didn’t care that the branches were out of order. In fact, I kind of liked them that way. I cherished his creation because he had put it together and he did it for Mom and me.