It was one of those times in life when everything else seems to stop and all of the important and pressing matters are no longer important or pressing. I remember it like it was in slow motion. Patty and I were walking along main street in the Kansas City suburb of Grandview, Missouri trying to process a very difficult piece of personal news we had had just received from her doctor. She had a large ovarian cyst that may be malignant and must be removed. That meant she would need a hysterectomy. She was twenty-five. Fortunately, we already had two children. Michelle was four and Nathan was two.
She was working as an ER nurse and I was going to school and pastoring a church. As concerned as we were about the surgery and the possibility of cancer, our more immediate concern was wondering when we could schedule the operation and who would take care of the kids. Finals week was just around the corner.
We decided to schedule it during Christmas break, which meant she would be in the hospital over Christmas. In those days our Christmas celebrations were stressful. We all loaded into a tiny Ford Escort, along with luggage and gifts to drive up to St. Joe where we bounced back-and-forth, trying to maintain equity with our two sets of parents who were very competitive concerning the time we spent with them and their “competition.” With other friends and relatives to see along with church responsibilities, Christmas was exhausting! Usually one of the kids would get sick.
Back to the story. When Patty returned to her room after surgery, she literally looked dead. I had that heartbreaking sense of helplessness that envelopes one when they experience the pain of one they love. It made such and impression on me, I still remember it thirty-one years later. When she came to she was in serious pain, but continued to progress as she should.
Here is the strange blessing of that Christmas. It was peaceful! Patty’s mom had the kids. We didn’t have to run all over the place or listen to our parents complain about being slighted.
On Christmas Day, Patty had a lovely Christmas dinner tray. I had the same dinner right beside her. The hospital was known as the Hilton among KC hospitals. We turned TV on and watched The Kennedy Center Honors. That year Victor Borge was among the inductees. Patty was recovering nicely, but it did hurt when she laughed. Victor Borge totally cracked us up! We laughed a lot as we enjoyed a strange, but beautiful Christmas in the hospital.
Our joy was complete with the pathology report that the cyst was benign. We laughed then and smile now when we reflect upon the lovely irony of that very unusual Christmas. Oddly, it felt more like Christmas ought to feel: simple, peaceful, relational, amidst the trauma of life and a world that seems to be off course.
Remembering this story has causes to think of a couple more Christmastime stories that I will share over the next couple of weeks.
This post is part of the December synchroblog entitled, “Tell Me a Story.” Here are links to the other contributors’ posts.
Our contributors for this month are:
Carol Kuniholm writing at Words Half Heard
Jeremy Myers tells us about Santa Clausette
Liz Dyer celebrates Dreams Do Come True
Leah Sophia digs in with Planting Hope
Kathy Escobar wrestles with holiday expectations