Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Not-So-Traditional Christmas

As I've mentioned in previous posts - and really any time I can find a reason to slip it into casual conversation - I love Christmastime. I love it like Santa loves cookies. I love it like ABC Family loves a screenplay in which a busy working woman falls in love with a man who makes her believe in Santa Claus. In fact, you may remember that I even bought my Christmas tree on November 19 - which may be why it died long before Christmas Day. 

This would be The National Tree, not my dead tree.
This year, I've loved getting to experience the season in DC - seeing the National Tree, attending holiday parties, shopping for gifts at new (to me) stores - but I was counting down the days to when I would wake up at the crack of dawn (which would be practice for Christmas morning), drive down to Charlotte and spend 9 amazing days soaking in Christmastime back in NC with my family and friends. I was ready. To that extent, I'd already eaten all of the chocolates out of my Advent calendar by December 18, symbolically and deliciously trying to speed up the passage of time.  

But on December 20, things changed. Plans were cancelled, suitcases unpacked, and priorities rearranged. 

My four-month-old nephew Charlie, the night before his first road trip to Charlotte, was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Inova Fairfax Hospital with a severe case of viral pneumonia and pneumothorax. Suddenly, nothing else mattered except our little buddy getting better. He was put on a respirator, given a feeding tube, administered sedatives, and doctors kept warning us that they may need to intubate him. It was unbearable to see the little guy in such pain. 

It would appear Christmas was cancelled. 

But I couldn't have been more wrong. 

Rather than give you the play-by-play of Charlie's ups and downs and the daily doctor reports, I want to tell you about how my family celebrated Christmas - perhaps more than we ever have before...

Christmas is about Family and when Charlie got sick, mine jumped into action. Melissa and Pete stayed by Charlie's side at the hospital, trying to make sense of what the doctors were saying and attempting to comfort their baby any way they could. I went to their house to take care of the dog and serve as the "top of the phone tree," relaying info to my parents. Rather than me driving to Charlotte the next day, my parents dropped everything, packed up "Christmas" (including the ham), and drove up to Arlington. Events like Charlie's baptism were cancelled, friends and family were notified, and schedules were thrown out-the-window - we were on Charlie's schedule now. The next several days were all about family - spending time together, sharing shifts at the hospital, and finding ways to support one another. 

Christmas is about God showing up in the most unlikely places - like a manger in a barn. We held tight to that belief, trusting that God would be with our family this Christmas in an unlikely place - a pediatric hospital room. We thought, "How could one tiny baby get so sick in 24 hours? Is he going to get worse?" This was not how we'd imagined celebrating Charlie's first Christmas. This was not in our plans. This sweet baby, he changed everything. This is the part where Mary and Joseph - I hear they like blogs - would say "join the club." We had faith that God knew what he was doing and would answer our prayers. 

Christmas is about Love and we've been surrounded by it - our love for Charlie, our friends' love for us, and incredibly talented doctors and nurses who love what they do and worked hard for our sweet boy. Thanks to the power of Facebook, the prayers we were sending up were echoed by dozens and dozens of friends and family. For that, my family thanks you. We felt your love. And, you can't know how much your encouraging words meant - especially to Melissa and Pete - over the last week. We witnessed the love of strangers in the form of Christmas presents delivered by Santa to the PICU and kind smiles in the hospital waiting room.  

This year, Christmas looked nothing like it ever had before. Instead of the traditions I've come to love over the last 27 years, my family and I were reminded of  - as cliche as it may sound - the "true meaning" of the season. Charlie "turned the corner" on Christmas Eve and was able to come off of the respirator on Christmas Day. It was a Merry Christmas, indeed. Yesterday, just one week after being admitted, he got to go home. 

He wore his special Christmas "jammies" and had his very first stocking from Santa waiting for him. Most people don't remember their First Christmas, but we won't let Charlie forget his.

I'm not saying we won't go back to our traditions next year - watching Christmas movies on the 24th, waking up crazy early on the 25th, exchanging gifts, having breakfast in the formal dining room in our pajamas - but I'm sure we'll celebrate with a new perspective on the season, a higher sense of gratitude for the people in our lives and a deeper appreciation for a baby - born in a manger - who is a symbol of hope for many who feel sad or scared, even during a time when the world says they should be cheerful and merry.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

A Belated Merry Christmas to You and Yours.

P.S. I used to be a huge fan of the P.S., to the extent of overuse. But, this one's important. On behalf of my family, I want to give a huge thank you for the staff of Inova Fairfax Hospital. They provided top-notch care for Charlie and were excellent at communicating with Melissa and Pete over the past week. As scared as we were for our "Chuckles," it was reassuring knowing that he was in good hands with the doctors and nurses. We are also grateful for the "behind-the-scenes" folks who don't always get recognized but are as much an integral part of a child's hospital stay as the medical team. To the cleaning staff, cafeteria employees, security guards, Child Life Specialists, social workers - thank you. It was not lost on our family that all of these incredibly talented folks mentioned were away from their families on Christmas in order to provide healing and comfort for ours.


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  2. So glad to hear your beautiful nephew is okay. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing story in your amazing way. Sending love love love, Lindsay Dear. Merry merry and best wishes for the best 2013.