Amongst the many that I have, one of my favorite childhood memories is going to my grandparents house for Christmas Eve. We knew there would be a lot of food. We knew there would be a lot of presents. We knew we got to hang out with the family. Specifically, we knew we would be able to be with Nana & Papa. We saw them all of the time, multiple times a week sometimes - but Christmas is obviously special.
I've been fortunate to have had many positive role models in my life. My grandfather is one of the best. A northwest Indiana iron-worker who loved his family as hard as he worked to provide for them. There wasn't anyone more fun to hang out with. We have pictures of him hunting and also original paintings he has done. His significance in my life and in who I am can't be explained, and he will always be one of my heroes. So obviously- Christmas is a special time to be with him.
Over the last 7-8 years my Papa - that's what I call him - has been suffering from small strokes. Each one is a scary ordeal in which we wonder if we'll have to say good-bye. He has fought through each one like the iron-worker he is - but the reality is that the strokes have had their toll, causing him to suffer from Alzheimer's. He now has to stay in bed most of the time and needs help with most everything.
To say this has been hard on our family would be an understatement. He and my Nana celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this past November - so how can it not be hard.
He has always been one of the funniest people I know and any bit of sense of humor that I or anyone in my family has was inherited from him. He always joked with us. For example, the last time he was in the hospital a nurse came in and asked him if he was OK. His answer, "No, I'm Bob." Most every nurse who has cared for him would with an affectionate smile tell the family - "He is a very funny man."
A couple weeks ago my mom called me and told me about something he said or did, I honestly can't remember what it was. What I do remember was that it had to do with him being confused with something that happened. The way that he responded was apparently indeed funny, and my mom and Nana were laughing and joking with him about it. Relating the story to me my mom said, "You have to laugh about things - how could we handle it if we didn't."
And that's when I realized that for all my life Papa has been preparing all of us for how to cope with what he is dealing with. He taught us to laugh.
Not to laugh at him or at what he's going through, but to be able to find some sense of joy in the midst of the trial. He's still Papa - and we can still laugh with him.
This past Christmas we all gathered around his bed downstairs to take a picture with him. It was the culmination of a great Christmas Eve day.
A day in which I was able to hold his hand while we talked some and joked some.
A day when we got him upstairs and he was able to eat with all of us.
A day in which we all laughed - joked - and poked fun at each other.
And to be able to do all of that that this year was one of the best Christmas presents ever.