All I Wanted for Christmas…

My dad looks just like Santa Claus. Besides his stubborn tendency to wear shorts and t-shirts even in the dead of winter, the resemblance is striking, actually. He has the same scraggly beard (except when my mom trims it), the same big belly (although abstaining from sweets has greatly reduced its size), the same jolly smile and the same twinkle in his eyes. And in true Santa fashion, he’s also extremely generous.

Year after year, he and my mom would work their magic and make our dreams come true. They’d pack us in the car and we’d head to my grandmother’s house in the mountains. And we’d hang our stockings from the chimney and examine the tree knowing that, by morning, it would be transformed. And we’d impatiently go to bed, willing the hours to go by ever faster so that Christmas could finally get started. And eventually dawn would break and we’d run from our beds to see what Santa had brought and we’d find the stockings so laden with gifts that they had become too heavy to hang and the tree so bulging with presents that they flowed like a mountain underneath.

And finally our chocolate calendars counting down the days until Christmas could be consumed once and for all because Christmas had finally arrived.

Over the years, the excitement and anticipation over the arrival of Christmas has become less defined by gifts but still is a prevalent feeling that makes December feel like a special time of the year. But something was missing this year. I couldn’t tell if it was because the commercials advertising the hottest new gadgets, the thinnest, lightest laptops, the latest cell phones that stir up a buying frenzy in the US were lacking in Spain. I didn’t know if it had to do with the fact that this was the first year in a long time that I didn’t have a full time job and therefore didn’t have staff parties and paid holidays to look forward to. Or maybe it was because I was home alone without internet or telephone and therefore forced to spend most of my days at the library – where holiday cheer was practically non-existent – as a result. Whatever it was, something just felt different.

And then on December 17th, I received a phone call. It was my mom. My grandmother – her mom – had passed away. We had just celebrated her 100th birthday in Toronto in June. The news came as a complete surprise. She had been in great physical condition then but a recent fall from a chair had broken her hip and required surgery. Her body couldn’t take it and, after a long, healthy life, she had passed away exactly six months after becoming a centenarian.

The funeral was being planned for the 23rd. Was there any way that I could make it? The time to arrange everything seemed too short and the distance too great, but then my sister provided the missing link. In such a situation, the airline that she works for would fly her family to the funeral. In less than 24 hours I made a plan. I was planning on going to Barcelona anyway to see Julie, my friend from college, so I would just fly out from Barcelona to Toronto. And because I would end up traveling on Christmas if I returned to Spain immediately after the funeral, I decided to continue on to California with my family to spend Christmas in the mountains with my dad’s mom. And if I left for Spain California on the 26th, that would give me just enough time to get back in time for my appointment at the immigration office on the 28th to turn in my papers for my residency in Spain. And suddenly, it didn’t matter that I had overstayed my visa and might not be let back in to the country. I would deal with the consequences if I had to. Attending my grandmother’s funeral and spending Christmas with my family and my other grandmother was my priority and I needed to get home.

After a 3 hour delay on the flight from Barcelona due to a series of mechanical problems, missing my connecting flight from NYC to Toronto, running to catch a cab between JFK and LaGuardia to standby on a later flight out of LaGaurdia, and having a run-in with the cabbie who gave me a warm New York City welcome by cursing at me because I wanted change from the $40 that I had handed over for the $32 cab fare, I got on the last flight of the day and was reunited with my family at midnight on the 22nd.

On the 23rd, I joined my aunts, uncle and cousins and we said goodbye to my grandmother and celebrated her long life. My cousin had made beautiful frames that illustrated a life well lived. There were photos of her as a gorgeous bride and a loving grandmother. Time had only changed her softly. Even at 100, she still had the same gentle smile and kind eyes.

That evening, my parents, sister and I headed to California. On the 24th, we drove up to Big Bear to be with my dad’s mom. And, as we all piled in her room, my dad read a passage that his dad used to read and that he now he reads from the Bible every year. And on Christmas day, I woke up early, filled with excitement, and jumped out of bed. But it wasn’t because I wanted to examine the presents that Santa had brought. I was just thrilled to be with my family.

I was the first one up but not the first one awake. I went to my grandmother’s room where she was waiting for her live-in caretaker to get her out of bed. She’s at the mercy of others to help her with everything. And, because of this, she suffers greatly, for, while her body has failed her, her mind has not. But, though she feels incredibly weak, she keeps the rest of us incredibly strong. She’s the perfect model of how one should live life. She’s has touched so many lives and is practically famous in her Big Bear community. Her generosity overflows and she’s faithful until the end. And she has an uncanny ability to remember birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations and keep track of the entire family’s happenings – a daunting task even for me. She’s at the heart of it all and, because of that, she keeps her ever-growing family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren whole.

So, this Christmas, my mom’s mom reminded me of how important family is and gave me a reason to defy Spanish immigration and head home, my sister made sure that we all got to where we needed to be and enabled it all to happen, and my dad’s mom – with her beautiful spirit and her mountain home that contains so many childhood memories – made Christmas Christmas and finally brought back the feeling of anticipation that I had been missing.

And even though we’re all scattered once again – David and I are back in Spain, my brother’s in Massachusetts, my sister’s traveling in Cambodia and my parents are in California – we were all able to come together for a brief moment to celebrate life and family.

And that’s the best present that I could have ever received.


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18 responses to “All I Wanted for Christmas…

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother. It is always tough to lose someone this time of year. I am very happy that you were able to return home to be there for the funeral and the holidays. Looks like your journey was not without it’s bumps, but I am glad you got back into Spain OK. Happy New Year!

    • Thanks for your comment, Melinda. I appreciate your support and hope that you had a wonderful holiday season (it sure looked like it was full of excellent food and great festivities!). Happy New Year to you, too!

  2. Such joy mixed with grief, togetherness and separation, good times and bad. That’s what life is made of… miss you!

  3. Oh Sara, I am so sorry to hear about your Grandmother!!I was starting to worry about you. I am glad you were able to go say goodbye and then be with your family to celebrate the holiday. You are in my thoughts and prays! Happy New Year, I hope 2010 is if full of joy for you and your whole family.

    • Thanks, Amy! I was just so grateful to be with my family. I know that you suffered your own loss recently. May our memories keep both of our grandmothers’ spirits alive!

  4. Sara, you are so blessed to have such a beautiful loving family and to have spent Christmas with them. sometimes losing a family member is what brings family together and that is a wonderful thing even though it is sad. lots of love to you and your family!!

    • Niki, as I get older, I’m definitely understanding better the significance and importance of family. I know that my life is a gifted one considering the amazing family that I was born into! I’m glad that you have reconnected with your own family!

  5. Sara, I’m so sorry for your loss, but am glad you were able to see your grandmother for her 100th birthday and be able to make it back for her funeral–and with such obstacles to overcome! I lost both my Popo and Yeye around the holidays and it makes it bittersweet indeed, but having family together to remember your loved ones is a special thing. It was meant to be that I couldn’t make it to Spain right around then, and I look forward to seeing you another time since we were both crisscrossing the Atlantic. Thinking of you and your family…

    • Thank you for your sweet words, April. I guess that it was destined that you weren’t able to make it to Spain this time so that I could attend my grandmother’s funeral. I do hope that we can get you to Spain soon though.

  6. Sara – I am so sorry for the passing of your beautiful grandmother but this entry is such a tribute and how wonderful that you could all connect in June and again in December! We made it to Paris for a family Xmas as well and got your family postcard right before I left. I loved it! I hope you get our NY card soon (many people in Europe have not for some reason so they might be MIA). Happy New Year! Sharon, Ian and Ella

    • Thank you, Sharon. I have yet to receive your holiday card, but I’m watching out for it! I hope that you had a great holiday in Paris, and I’m glad that you got home safely!

  7. Merry Xmas/Happy New Year! And thanks for the card. Now that im caught up with this crazy adventure..OMG
    So glad that you were able to spend time with your g-ma but very sad for your lost. G-parents are the backbones of most families and when they get taken away from us family tends to get a little more closer.

    • Thanks for your kind words and for reading, Curtis! It means a lot to me. Grandparents are the backbones of family. Having to say goodbye certainly reminded me of how precious family – and life – is.

  8. A big “thank You” belated as it is for honoring Mama in your blog, Sere. It wouldn’t have been the same without you during this memorable time. So glad you braved the obstacles to be with us…….it’s a little harder to admit that distance doesn’t exist …..that 11 hour flight between the continents is pretty real and arduous so. It’s easier to disregard the passing of time…..but you defied both under duress. I’ll remember that when it’s our turn to return to Spain! So sorry Mama is missing this chapter of
    your life over there.

    • Mom, I’m so glad that I was there. It meant a lot to me to be able to be there to celebrate your mom’s life. She was very special, and she raised a very wonderful person: you. I love you.

  9. Sara and Coral, I’m so sorry about your grandma’s passing…Please give my love to your mom and dad and David. Your mom is so amazingly kind and generous and she’s raised such beautiful and extraordinary daughters, that your grandma must have been absolutely amazing and unforgettable. Your writing honors the spirit of her memory beautifully…I’m so glad you were all able to remember her together for Christmas. Thank you for sharing your memories and experiences with us.

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