A Last Christmas
Have you ever faced a holiday knowing it would be a loved one’s last?
In November 2013, Steven decided to end his brain cancer treatment. For 27 months he had faced intense surgery to remove as much of the glioblastoma tumor as possible along with various treatments. That November, he learned that the tumor had started growing yet again and his treatment options were very limited and ultimately ineffective.
Steven was concerned about making the decision to end treatment because he did not want his family to feel disappointed or that he was letting them down. We all assured him that we were incredibly proud of the brave battle he had fought, could not begin to imagine what he had endured so far, and in no way were disappointed.
Given his decision, the family knew it would be his last Christmas.
During his battle, I learned a lot about Steven. I learned that family was everything to him, he wanted to be in the middle of everything to feel connected to his family, and he truly lived every moment.
I knew he would want that last Christmas to be a time of celebration. After all, he was still alive.
With this knowing, I collaborated with the family to determine fun things we could do to make Christmas 2013 one of the best. I wanted Steven’s wife and children to be able to celebrate that holiday. I wanted us all to be fully present in that moment and not worry about what was to come.
“Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now. And that’s a revelation for some people: to realize that your life is only ever now.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
At the time, I worked for The Coca-Cola Company. One of the things I loved most during my tenure with the company was realizing just how much opening a cold bottle of Coca-Cola is like opening happiness. I knew many of the children in the family had never had a bottle of Coca-Cola, so I arranged for everyone to have a bottle to open and toast Christmas day. The kids were so ecstatic, and it truly was a moment of happiness and celebration!
Grant, Steven’s brother, had the idea to bring a large whiteboard and markers for family and friends to share messages, quotes, and/or art. It would be for Steven’s wife and children to keep in their home. And it ended up not just being for Christmas. As various people visited Steven during his last few months, the guests in his home shared messages of love on the board. Even his beautiful hospice nurses took a moment to share their own personal messages of love and support.
My most favorite thing was the silly string fight! Steven loved being a jokester, so it occurred to me that a silly string fight might be right up his alley. His wife, Melanie, and I discussed the thought and how we could arrange it. I set out on ordering the largest silly string cans I could find and then individually wrapped the containers. Given the challenges Steven had with the use of his hands due to the tumor, I gave him his wrapped container first, then handed off to the other adults, and ensured I gave the kids their containers last. Steven had only two rules for the fight that was about to ensue: 1) watch out for Grant’s camera (Grant was set to capture the moment), and 2) “Don’t worry about it!”
Steven was the first to attack!
Oh, there was so much laughter! So much screaming. So many smiles. One of my favorite pics of Steven from that day is of him sitting in his wheelchair grinning ear to ear with silly string all over him.
The day wasn’t without difficult moments. Not long after the silly string fight, Steven experienced one of the many seizures the tumor brought on. I felt terrible because the silly string was my idea. I didn’t realize beforehand, but too much stimulation brought on seizures for him.
The next morning, I received a text from Melanie. She shared with me that once Steven, she, and the kids were around the breakfast table, Steven’s first comment was: ”How about that silly string fight?!” I smiled as I read her text.
Steven taught me so much. One of the biggest lessons is to truly live every moment no matter what tomorrow may hold.
"Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life." ~ Eckhart Tolle
Are you facing a challenging holiday season and want to fully embrace the moment? Do you simply desire to live more in the moment? How can you make this holiday season truly a celebration for you and your loved ones?
"If you can transform a death into a moment of celebration, you have helped your friend, your mother, your father, your brother, your wife or your husband. You have given them the greatest gift that is possible in existence." ~ Osho
(Please note: In my writings, some names have been changed to protect loved ones. I share my experiences and stories while honoring the privacy of those dear to my heart.)