|Kelly Williamson, mother/daughter
Christmas morning at our house has always been joyful, even when my husband and I were first starting out and had little extra to spend. For me, it’s never been about the gifts but having time to enjoy and appreciate special moments with family. The anticipation of seeing my children walk into the living room to gaze at the wonders Santa has left usually causes me to lose sleep on Christmas Eve. This year, I lost sleep, but more because of a painful realization that this Christmas was going to be difficult. Waking up that morning, I had no idea how right I was to dread the events about to play out.
Several days before Christmas, my mother was hospitalized in a mental health facility for the second time in as many months. The pain of that reality consumed my family in the days leading up to the holiday, but we were all doing our best to preserve what we could for the sake of my two children. They would miss the big turkey dinner at my parent’s house and all the festivity that went with it. The day would not be the same, but we had to try. My mother had made it clear: She did not want to see any of us, but we had a plan, and we were ready to put on brave faces for the sake of the kids. Then, the phone rang.
A Decision to Make
The sound of my mother’s voice was comforting, though her words were agonizing, “I know I said I didn’t want to see you today, but this is my favorite holiday. Can you come see me? I want to see the kids.”
My husband was in the shower, readying himself for the day, when she called. “Who was that on the phone?”
I explained to him that she had called and wanted us to bring the kids to see her. I told him how she had a room set aside for the visit. He looked down at the floor, and I knew I was asking too much, yet there I stood, asking. As he looked me in the eyes, I could see the mix of emotions he felt at that moment. It was hard for him to see me in such pain, and he had done everything in his power to help me through this tragedy, but this was more than he could give.
“I cannot let you bring the kids there. That is not a place for them, and certainly not on Christmas Day. You can go, but the kids are staying with me.”
Giant tears rolled down my cheeks, raw from the sheer amount of time spent crying over the last several weeks, but I knew he was right. I had never been inside the hospital, and I had no idea what to expect. I was apprehensive about going myself, afraid of what I’d see. My head knew he was right, though my heart was torn apart.
We plodded our way through the day, making a few stops before ending up at my sister’s house for dinner. Dad wasn’t going to join us for dinner or presents; it was too painful for him, but he’d be there later so we could ride to the hospital together. My daughter, old and perceptive enough to get the gist of what was going on, asked if she could come with us to visit. I hugged her and told her she couldn’t, and as I peered over her shoulder, my sister nodded in agreement.
I could feel my heart pounding as I saw Dad’s headlights pull into my sister’s driveway. I once again approached my husband, asking if he was sure the kids shouldn’t go; it was Christmas, there was a room set aside. He was steadfast in his position, and I did not push.
As Dad came into the house, his face revealed the kind of day he’d had. “Ready?”
We grabbed our coats from the closet, and I had trouble making eye-contact. I knew he was wondering, and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
“Are the kids coming?”
“No. It’s not the place for them.”
“Okay, let’s get going. She’s expecting us.”
No Turning Back
As we drove, the car was mostly silent. At one point, my dad asked how the kids were doing. My sister mentioned how my daughter had wanted to come with us. My dad replied that we probably should have let her come, and my heart splintered into pieces. As we pulled into the parking lot, I was second-guessing my decision. Should I have tried harder to convince my husband? I felt paralyzed in the car, but I managed my way into the building, my heart beating out of control.
The buzzer sounded, and I saw her through the narrow window in the door, hair done up and wearing a festive red sweater. She smiled when she saw us, but I could see the look of concern as she came closer to the door.
“Where are the kids?” Her face was distraught. “Are they coming?”
“No, Mom, they aren’t coming. It’s been a rough day on them. They don’t understand what’s going on.”
She stormed down the hall and around the corner to the community room, where she sat at the head of a long table. We took seats around her and tried to make small talk, but she wouldn’t look at us. She was rummaging through a bag, pulling out papers and making piles on the table. She started talking about this being yet another disappointment, and we should not have even come. We tried to engage her, but she wanted nothing to do with us. She told us to leave, and my dad and sister led the way toward the exit. I lagged behind as she packed up her papers. I wanted to explain to her why I couldn’t bring them, that I was sorry she was struggling, but she brushed by without a glance in my direction. She escorted us to the door, and I had broken down at that point. Finally, she looked directly into my eyes.
“Thanks for ruining my Christmas, Kelly.”
With that the doors opened, and some EMT’s rolled past us with a disheveled man strapped to a gurney, obviously a new admission to the unit. The doors closed behind us, and I wanted to rush back. Why was seeing me not enough? Couldn’t she see that the kids didn’t belong in a place like this? Instead, I crumbled in the elevator, sobbing harder than I had in years.
It Was the Right Choice
That was over four months ago, and I will say that it took me a long time to get over what happened on Christmas Day. Being in the position of having to choose between your mother and your children is an impossible one, but we all thank our lucky stars that my husband had the clarity of mind to make the right decision. I was so emotionally involved that I was not capable of making the best decision.
She wanted them there, and if it had been up to me they would have gone, and that would have been wrong. An environment like that is highly unpredictable, and they could have seen or heard things that could have been frightening. They would have seen a man strapped to a gurney. On Christmas Day. I would have regretted that decision.
In life, when things get emotionally charged, there is no substitute for the perspective of someone less involved. Emotions can cloud our judgment, they can prevent us from seeing clearly and making wise judgments. From this devastating situation I have taken this lesson, it will guide my way into the uncertain future, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
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