“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.” -Don Draper, Mad Men
It still amuses me to see what kind of things dredge up the most powerful feelings of nostalgia for the days long gone. Most recently, I’ve found my heart aching while watching clips of Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas.
Those of you who grew up in/around the 80s probably remember this once-staple in the network TV Christmas special line up. I’m not sure how many years it ran, but I can specifically remember this playing in the background one year while my family decorated the Christmas tree in the living room. I remember taking special care to unwrap all the ornaments in the box, trying to find my favorites (red hearts and metal angels, each playing its own instrument) so I could be sure I was the one to hang them and to be sure they received extra-special spots on the tree.
I guess in some ways I still rely on the magical memories from my own childhood to help jump start my Christmas spirit this time of year because those memories/the feelings of those memories are what most embody Christmas for me. I’ve been talking to quite a few people who have to make the tough decision on whether or not they are going to tell their kids the truth about Santa, and all of them have said practically the same thing: “I just wish they could one more year with the magic, you know?” And sadly, I do. I think we all do…
I still love this time of year and still look forward to the holiday and its festivities, but I have not been able to recapture the magic or same feeling that my memories of my childhood Christmases give me. But, like the above (fucking brilliant) quote from Mad Men, I guess that feeling that I carry with me goes beyond the actual memory. I guess the bittersweet realization that such a recollection cannot be recreated makes those memories even more powerful than they could be if they were replicated. That’s somehow beautiful and devastating all at the same time.
And of course all these feelings–all these memories of “how things used to be,” vs. “how things are now” make me think about my mother. It’s funny how the pain of her disease is always with me, usually buried far enough under the surface to let me carry on my day-to-day, but sometimes all it takes it a little scratch–some thought or memory from the past to scrape up against me and suddenly all that feeling and pain comes back up again.
It had been building up most of yesterday. It started on the train on my way to my job. I thought about the fact I haven’t really talked to my parents in almost a week and how I only felt a little guilty for it. I’ve been sort of avoiding my father, mainly because I’m avoiding trying to figure out the great “what next” of our housing situation and I know that will be his topic of choice. So I’ve allowed myself to become wrapped tightly in my new routine and job in order to avoid difficult decisions, holiday planning, and general life living. This choice felt pretty liberating until the guilt finally caught up to me.
It didn’t help that I had to edit a proposal about Aricept. There wasn’t even a bit of talk in there about Alzheimer’s–the whole thing was strictly focused on what kind of activities would be needed to meet the client’s need–but I couldn’t stop half-smirking/half-sulking over the irony: here I am, trying to help sell a project to a pharmaceutical company so they in turn make sure their reps can sell their product to physicians so my parents can in turn buy the product to help keep my mom from slipping away from us faster.
And then that night, after craving to see this special from my childhood for weeks, I finally find it on YouTube, and the instant and overwhelming feeling of nostalgia finally cracked open those old familiar feelings of overwhelming sadness.
It’s hard to explain what it is like to watch your parent live with Alzheimer’s. I can only speak from my own experience, coming from someone who began to watch her mother unravel when I was just finishing college, but I feel like so much of myself has become lost with her. I feel like I never got to fully understand who my mother was beyond the restrictions of being a “mom,” and so I can’t fully see what parts of me are extensions of her. I honestly can’t say whether or not my relationship with my mom would be a strong one if she hadn’t gotten sick–we spent a lot of my childhood at odds with each other–but I just wish I would have had the chance to find that out.
Don’t get me wrong–there have been strange blessings to this situation: so many people never have the chance to make any sort of amends to their loved ones until they are gone. At least my mother is here still and I can show her all the love I possibly can. I don’t have to live with regret that I never got the chance to appreciate her while she was still here: this whole situation has made me realize how lucky I am to have been given the mom I have.
But there are so many hard points about this situation, too. It can be so hard to be the strong one sometimes–so hard to try to feel excited for the holidays when the holidays just aren’t the same and never will be. No matter what we plan or prepare, no day is different to my mom–there is no recognition for the special event, the momentous occasions. My mom was at my wedding, but she does not remember it. Thanksgiving does not register as being a particularly special day and she will quizzically look at the presents we place in her lap on Christmas, half uncertain who it’s for or why it’s even being given. And part is the hardest because I know that we are all feeling that same terrible heartachewhen we smile and pretend to be happy when we explain: “Yes mom, I am married. You were there. You danced at the wedding.” “Remember, mom? Today is Thanksgiving–you love this holiday!” “The present is for you because it’s Christmas. Look at all the other presents under the tree!”
And my mom, still understanding that these are things she is supposed to know, that she is supposed to remember, will smile and nod and laugh and say, “Of course.”
And so when it is difficult for me to think about braving those feelings, those moments, and the inevitable emotions that come with them, I think back to the days when life was simpler–when I truly believed that Santa Claus existed and that my parents were invincible. I believed that nothing could be better than sitting inside a warm house on a cold night, watching the California Raisins dance on the TV screen while decorating the tree, dreaming of all the wonderful things Christmas morning would bring. And at least of all those things I believed, one of them was true…