Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Real Gift

I am not a Christmas Elf. I have worked as one. It's not my favorite holiday for many reasons.
Irony, this year to have a microburst drop a pine bough 40 plus feet through the roof of our carport tent. We were underneath it and were lucky to be unharmed when the 14 foot long branch came straight through the roof nearly spearing our crockpot of bean soup. Christmas tree delivered whether we wanted one or not. We used comedy to deal with it, and an extra tarp. Then, to have a complex story game I loved stolen by an ex through chance- specifically to be hurtful, only to have several friends who could empathise surprise me via paypal enough to make it possible for me to replace what was stolen.
Speechless. Usually, I pick through my friends and go through what I have and send of what gifts I can; because I choose to. I try to give what I can especially if I know a friend is having a rough year.
I am not used to receiving. I am used to giving. It changes the feel of the season. It turns it into something that can be beautiful.

Got spare time? Spare food? Spare toys?There are soup kitchens and other options for volunteering from caroling to giving toys to Toys for Tots.

How are your friends faring? Reach out. Depression and Christmas are a tough combination. Share laughter, share good memories. Make new friends. Make more beautiful memories. Seriously.

Instead of investing in the most expensive yada yada, why not invest in each other?
The best gifts are memories. The memory of our crazy divebombing tree will be the most priceless Christmas tree memory.

The memory of volunteering to work Christmas and cook dinner and play card games with psych. residents who had no families back when I worked at a group home was my best Christmas ever. I remember one resident, a grizzled guy we will call Teddy, asking me repeatedly as we checked the turkey why I was there and not with family. I remember finally pausing, after many joke responses and saying; "I am here because you all are here. Because together we can have a great holiday, however we choose. If we want to throw out the turkey and eat ice cream, we can. If we want to play card games and stuff ourselves on leftovers we can. We can have a great day here together regardless of what the rest of the world does." And we did. Three years I worked there, he and I played card games often as I was trying to help his neurons build pathways around the damage done by an aneurysm he survived in the 60s. His short term memory did not connect to long term. He knew my face. But I was Barbara, George, Herman, Isabelle, Sarah, and if he was angry the names became bad puns- Not So Mary, Missy Witch etc. I taught him behaviors to negate the temper flares he had until the memory of being upset passed. I taught him not to stress about what he could not recall. Behavior and repetitive patterns to implant new information where memory could not lose it. If you brush your teeth every morning, eventually you do it without thought. That was our process. Slow. No one had seriously worked with him, he had been shuffled for years between programs.
Three years I beat him at Rummy, putting all the cards I needed to score with gradually in the discards out of sequence. That night was the night his brain was finally able to connect them. That night he won.
The memory of the look on his face when his thoughts connected. Nothing wrapped in paper or topped with a bright bow will ever top that look. I have never been so happy to get trounced at a game. The next week, for the first time- he remembered my name. He never lost it. Just after that I was promoted to a different site and was gone. I left the agency shortly after that, disliking how they approached mental health. They seemed more interested in having clients than in helping people heal.
Almost twenty years later I realize, Teddy gave me the best gift. He was working on healing my heart as much as I was working on his mind. It was a holiday free of expectations, free of moods and attitudes, it was just a pleasant day.
I hope that in your life you are lucky enough to have someone like Teddy change your world for the brighter. I hope you let them.