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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Family Traditions

Every family has their traditions. Some are good traditions. Opening presents on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve. Having a big old picnic at the park with family and friends on Labor Day. Making up a holiday like Let's All Pretend It's Spring Day and having a BBQ in the middle of January. All good and fun traditions.

Some traditions, well suck, and suck big time. For instance, going to kradgity  Aunt Agnus' stinky, dirty apartment, with 50 cats running around, every year on her birthday and having to kiss her on her whiskery cheek. And kiss all of her cats, too. Or having to go to Old Uncle Fergus' farm and eat dead squirrel every year on his birthday. Oh and be the one who has to shoot and skin the poor little squirrel, too. Both very sucky traditions.

My family has a tradition that is down right horrible. Horrible in a very unfunny and unamusing way.

As kids, you look forward to the holiday season. Thanksgiving with pumpkin pie. Christmas with presents and family. New Years Eve, getting to stay up clear until midnight eating all the chips and dip you want, and drinking Dad's New Years Eve punch. All very exciting and very special times for kids. Plus, Christmas vacation, not a bad deal. Oh, and birthdays, birthdays are always fun, even when it is someone else's. at least you get cake and ice cream! 

With the holidays came a lot of birthdays in our family, too. My mom's was December 20th, mine was the next day. Dad's was January first, a New Years baby. Ben's was January 19th. All of those bunched together. (My sister was the oddball, her birthday was in July.)

When I was in sixth grade my grandmother, who we called Gran was very ill. Gran had been battling metastatic breast cancer for a long time. Gran and Grandpa had traveled the country for years. They loved to travel and even continued when Gran got sick. 

This particular year Gran was in the hospital. The end of her life was approaching quickly. I had a cross neckless, that I can't remember where I got it. I really liked it, it was one of my favorites. We went to see Gran in the hospital a day or two after Christmas. I knew that she was very religious and I wanted to do something special that would mean something to her. I gave her my cross. She looked at me, smiled a very tired smile and thanked me. She gave me a hug. That was the last time I saw her. She died on New Years Day.

When I was in eighth grade, Grandpa had gotten sick. He had developed multiple myeloma. He declined very quickly. Mom said his heart was broken from losing Gran and he just didn't have any fight left in him. Grandpa had moved himself into a nursing home after Gran died to take care of my great grandmother, Nana. Nana had dementia. I barely remember a time before her memory became impaired. When Gran died, Grandpa took on the duty of making sure she had good care. Since he was alone, lost the desire to travel. I think taking care of Nana was just his way of beginning to shut down. 

In December he became very ill. He went into the hospital where the diagnosis of cancer was given. I can't be sure, but I think it may have brought peace to him. He would soon be with Gran again. My mother was angry. She could not believe cancer was going to take her father now, too. On December 21, my birthday, Grandpa passed away. He finally got to be with his one true love again. I cried in the kitchen. Urged on by my mom, I went to a birthday party that a friend was throwing for me that night. "Grandpa would want you to go."

A couple of years later, Grandma, my dad's mother, got sick. Grandma was a tough old bird. She was one of those little old ladies that would go out and shovel her own sidewalk when she was 85. I remember Dad getting so mad at his brother, Uncle Don, for letting her. He lived with Grandma. Grandma was pretty sneaky about it though. She would wait until Uncle Don was out of the house and then go out and do it. I honestly don't remember what took Grandma's life. I do remember it wasn't a prolonged illness. It seemed like, while she was very old, it still wasn't expected. Grandma had her wits until the end. Grandma died on Christmas Day. Grandma, according to my mom,  liked being the center of attention. She believed Grandma died on Christmas on purpose. Now everyone would remember the day she died. 

In 1988 when I was pregnant with Joshua, my mom became very weak. She had been a two pack a day smoker since college. She always said she took it up to make her dad angry. She wouldn't quit. "It is my one and only vice," She would say. "I enjoy it and I'm not going to stop." She never did. She became very ill with emphysema. Mom had no health insurance. She refused to go to the doctor. She got sicker and sicker over the years of 1987 and 1988. By spring of 1988 she was barely moving off the couch. Her appetite had diminished, but instead of admitting she was very ill, she convinced herself that she had become anorexic. She started trying to force herself to eat. She was losing weight at an alarming rate. She even started drinking eggnog, which she despised, because she knew it had lots of calories. She was trying to gain weight. 

She next started having panic attacks. Still refusing to go to the doctor, she also tried to home remedy those. I would tell her she needed to go to the hospital and she would say, "I'm not going to the hospital. What if they do find something really wrong? Then they treat it and charge us lots of money. I die, and leave your dad destitute trying to pay off all of the bills. I'm not going to do that!" 

At the end of May, in 1988, she couldn't breath. She was so weak she could barely move. Finally, she agreed to go to the hospital. One of her lungs was half destroyed by emphysema and the other was two-thirds destroyed. Her "panic attacks" were caused by her body's desperate attempt to get oxygen. Her weight loss was due to her body eating itself away to have the energy to breathe. On May 26th, 1988, Mom died, on her mother's birthday. 

Alyssa's birthday is on the 11th. 

Do you see the trend? Birthdays and holidays for a very long time were approached with trepidation for years. My brother was extremely affected by the trend. He had gotten to the point that he no longer looked forward to the holidays, and got anxious around upcoming birthdays. If Dad was in the hospital, he, and well, me too, would stop and think..... are there any birthdays or holidays coming up. If their were, an eerie nervousness would develop.

I have told my brother he is NOT allowed to pass on my daughter's birthday. Her birthday was forever changed already when she turned 11 in 2001. She doesn't need losing her uncle on top of it. I am hoping that his innate hatred of our lovely family tradition will keep him from carrying it on. I told him if he really does want to follow the tradition, Bazinga's birthday is today. Bazinga likes to share, he won't mind a bit.


  1. .May your days and nights be filled with peace,
    And may those you love be near.
    May the solace of that closeness
    Banish any hint of fear.

    May the joy you've brought to others
    Fill your soul now with that light,
    And the memories of happy times
    Fill your dreams through darkest night.

    For you've lent your strength to many.
    You've upheld us in our strife.
    Now let those of us who love you
    Let you know just how your life

    Has been the brightest beacon
    For you've shown us how to bear
    With great dignity and courage
    Both the bad times and the fair.

    As a mentor and a leader
    You have always been our guide.
    As a friend there's been none better.
    May you know all this with pride.

    All our prayers and thoughts are with you.
    May you feel their soothing grace.
    May our care and loving hold you
    Here within that sacred space.

    And may God then grant you courage
    When the time to fight is o'er
    And be waiting for you smiling,
    When you reach his lofty door.

    For you'll be borne by angels
    That our Lord has sent for you
    And in wholeness be rewarded
    All your pain will then be through.

    Dyan Bell
    Class of 1975 Des Moines Tech