Why Happy Holidays….

Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Also marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people don’t even realize the importance of this day throughout history, but we sure take part in celebrations born in those ancient times!!! I am sure you are wondering what does this have to do with the holidays. Bear with me.

Back in those days, the solstice marked the rebirth of the sun. In other words, this marked a reversal: shorter days and longer nights, but also the promise that from this day forward the sun would stay in the sky a bit longer every day. Celebrations lasted for days involving everyone. Sharing food, an important part of the celebration, was meaningful because it represented faith in the return of the sun and the harvest.

Many cultures practiced this reversal. Romans had the Saturnalia, a seven-day celebration. Men dressed as women, masters as servants. There were greenery decorations, lighted candles, exchanges of gifts. The Celts had the Yule Log burning brightly for days to encourage the sun to come back. Druids gave mistletoe as blessings. In Scandinavian countries, presents of apples and oranges decorated with cloves, huge pine trees decorated with lights were part of the celebrations. Everyone was served mead and ale, or wine and beer depending on the country.

Aside from the celebrations, there were other activities designed to help the people survive the cold months. First, the slaughtering of animals because they would not have to be fed in the winter. So fresh food was plentiful for days. The rest of the meat was preserved to last through the cold months. Second, fruits and roots were stored in dry and dark places for the same reason. It was a matter of survival to monitor the food stored for those months ahead. Ancient people took this very seriously.

Regardless of our spiritual or cultural heritage, if we live in the Northern Hemisphere today, we find ourselves caught up, perhaps out of habit, in the commercial swirl known as the holidays that leaves us depleted in more ways than one. I don’t have to remind you of our endless trips to stores, supermarkets and such to prepare for the celebrations to come.

In our quest to please ourselves, our families and friends, to follow tradition or simple go with the flow, this is why we mark this event. In our cultures, this is ingrained one way or another. So many religious and pagan and cultural traditions begin around this day. A good reason for calling these days: Happy Holidays!!!

Wine, Rain and Tears

IMG_0555What a combination these made on my last trip to Panama. After almost nine years and twenty-six trips, we finally made the hardest decision. Our mother is now in a place where she can get all the care she needs and we are still adjusting to the idea.

On November 6th, my sister Ana and I went to Panama. This time we were not coming back without finding a permanent solution to our mother’s care. The next ten days were stressful, sentimental, cramped with difficult decisions and strangely enough, funny.

It was raining when we arrived and it rained all the way to my mother’s hometown. At times I was driving at 50 km/h. Thankfully, Ana kept me company and we plowed ahead. Took us longer than usual, but we were so grateful when we arrived. It was clear!!!

Laura was waiting for us and we realized we were just in time. Caring for an aging parent is hard enough, doing it without help is almost impossible. The decision was made….there was no reason to continue. Our mother was not receiving the adequate care, nurses are so hard to get. They prefer to work at hospitals. Never mind that we paid well, offered benefits and made them feel at home. They want to go home at the end of their shift, see their families, enjoy their lives.

The first few of days, we just concluded the plans, gathered the necessary paperwork, medications and personal items she would need. We visited her doctor, who agreed with our decision, went over the new treatment for her sleeplessness, made her as comfortable as possible and waited.

In the evenings, we sat around talking, reminiscing and laughing while having a glass or two of wine, and more than once, crying. It was not going to be easy, but we were determined to get this right. It was the least we could do for our mother. After all, she was counting on us being there for her until the end. Having to change plans was not what she expected nor what we thought would happen.

Finally the day arrived: Friday Nov 13th. We rented a special car, big enough to accommodate her belongings, Doris, her companion of more than twenty-five years and a nurse. We chose someone she knew well. We engaged a driver also.  We planned every detail. The owner of the home had advised us that it was better for us not to travel with her. Too many goodbyes, she said, would make it so much harder for our mother and for us. We had to trust her, she has done this for years. As you can imagine, it was not easy.

Shortly after they left, I drove to the city. It was better if one of us was available if our presence was needed. It was a long and lonely drive, but I made good time. Arriving in the city, it started to rain again. Then the hotel had mixed up my reservations and I had no room for that night.

IMG_3615Had to drive to a different hotel for one night. Nothing to it…….well, not so fast. Even though it was close by, traffic, one-way streets and rain made it an ordeal. It took me more than an hour to navigate a few city blocks!!! Fortunately the place was great, the service excellent and my evening was better than I had expected.

My sisters arrived the next day. I had already checked in at our hotel, so I left to return the rented car. We settled for the evening, talked so more, watched the news from Paris, tried to relax and kept in touch with the person in charge of the home. Then it started raining again, but there was no wine.

Sunday arrived and we got ready to go see our mother, at least see how she was coping. After a very good brunch washed down with Mimosas, we were ready. By then the skies had opened and it was raining cats and dogs. Never mind, we were so pleasantly greeted by the owner, who is a friend of friends. She was warm, engaging, so caring and understanding. She put us at ease immediately. We left with tears in our eyes, but with a gladdened heart.

We realize this has truly been the right decision. Our mother has adapted well; she is sleeping, eating and engaging with others. Her special chair and hospital bed have arrived. In time, we will decorate her room with all her personal mementos. The care is just what she needs at this stage, there is always someone there if she needs it. There is also the company of other ladies, who have taken to her so lovingly.

More trips will happen, but they will be more relaxed, more to enjoy our mother than to run around trying to solve problems. She is in good hands. Almost everyday, we receive reports, we receive photos and we are grateful. Next time, there will be wine for celebration, tears of happiness and relief. Not so sure about the rain, but that would be welcome too.IMG_3609