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“Our Impossible Christmas”

December 17, 2018

Stuart, my youngest brother, called me in November 1993. “Tina and I think we ought to have a family reunion this Christmas.” My reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding!” He wasn’t. Stuart and his wife were the instigators of Our Impossible Christmas. Besides me and Stuart, we had a brother Hugh in Detroit, a sister Carol in Chicago, and our oldest brother Robert in California. After living with me and my husband for two years, our mother was in a nursing home in St. Petersburg near Stuart. Wracked by supranuclear palsy (similar to Parkinson’s disease), she was stuck in a wheelchair and no longer able to speak clearly, though her brain worked fine.

Robert was our black sheep. Married four times, an alcoholic, and twice imprisoned, the rest of us sometimes questioned mother, “Are you sure he’s our brother?” But now he, too, was confined to a wheelchair in a Veterans’ Hospital in Palo Alto, California, a quadriplegic with Lou Gehrig disease. Remarkably, he retained his ability to talk and, thanks to AA, had been sober for several years. Clearly this would be the last Christmas for him and mother, yet the challenges of orchestrating a reunion seemed insurmountable.  When I called Carol, she said, “Are you crazy? What if Robert dies while he’s there?” I replied, “So what?  He’s going to die soon anyway.” Sadly, she chose not to attend, missing the last chance for the five siblings to be together with our mother.  

The impossible started to take shape: Tina contacted the Veterans’ Hospital in St. Petersburg which agreed to keep Robert at night; his daughter said she could get him to the San Francisco airport; Delta Airlines (bless them) said they would handle his connection in Texas, with one caveat – they wouldn’t help him use the bathroom. Hugh and I and our families drove to St. Petersburg where Stuart and Tina made room for all of us. We hadn’t dropped a hint of the plan to mom in case it didn’t work out. To my continuing amazement, it did.

Stuart and Hugh picked up Robert at the airport, brought him to the house, and promptly headed to the shower. Tina and I heard raucous laughter as all three brothers piled into the shower, washing Robert from head to toe. He looked refreshed and happy when he was wheeled out. A niece had even bought him a “hat” which held a soda and had a straw leading to his mouth. Yes, it looked silly, but he loved being able to sip on his own.

On Christmas Eve, we “wrapped” Robert with a huge red bow and presented him to mother as her “Christmas gift.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as, wheelchair to wheelchair, mom reached out to touch the son she thought she’d never see again.  “Hi,” she said simply. 

Mom died eight weeks later. And just before he died in June, Robert said, “It was my best Christmas ever!” Surely God had a hand in empowering “Our Impossible Christmas.”