On November 29 I sent a message to a friend who owns a Christmas tree farm, offering to pay him for delivering one of his trees to us, since I have limited ability to run errands such as this. Traditionally, we acquire our tree one or two weeks before Christmas; I figured the request for my friend’s assistance gave him plenty of time to get a tree to us. To my surprise we had our Christmas tree by 6:00 pm the next day, November 30, allegedly delivered by “Santa.”
The tree that now stands in our living room is the biggest we ever had. Obviously our friend, I mean Santa, wanted to make sure we had a nice one. This also was the earliest we ever put a Christmas tree up in our house. For a whole month this tree will stand as a juxtaposed reminder about the smallest Christmas tree we ever had, acquired at the last moment. The span of time between these two trees roughly corresponds to the time of Cindy’s affliction.
Life was not going well in the Sinclair household in 2009, particularly for Cindy. Work as a visiting nurse became more stressful for her throughout the year; in the autumn some brewing family issues contributed to her stress levels. As Christmas approached, there was an alarming change in Cindy’s nature as she went from putting a positive spin on the most troubling of events to becoming fatalistic in her outlook on work and family. She would last one more year at work before they let her go, but the Christmas of 2009 stood out as a starting point for her cognitive decline ever since.
We first resolved not to celebrate a traditional Christmas that year. The two weekends before came and went without us getting a tree. With but a few days to go something snapped inside of me. I grabbed a saw and headed for nearby state flood control land to cut down a tree, in defiance of the fickle fates.
Traditional Christmas trees may be spruce or fir, even pine. As I searched through the mixed forest for a tree that seemed to fit the mood I cut down a rather small hemlock. Google hemlock to get an idea how far I strayed from the traditional Christmas fold. Instead I selected the stereotypical Charlie Brown tree.
The prospect of dragging a tree home while postholing through two feet of snow may have influenced my selection. Still, our whole family agrees I chose the tree that precisely symbolized our situation at the time. That tree made a statement; adversity may humble the Sinclair family mightily, but we were not to be defeated.
Our humble Christmas tree of 2009 provides our family mirthful reminiscing ever since, but the metaphorical statement continues. Adversity indeed has humbled this household mightily in the form of Alzheimer’s, yet we never conceded defeat, at least not in terms of how we would live our lives. Life with dementia may give the appearance of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree to an outside observer, but looks can be deceiving as to the real meaning of things.
Historically the Sinclair Christmas trees suffer from a lack of maintenance. Though only one started out as a Charlie Brown tree many ended up that way by the time they were dragged outside some time after New Years, leaving a wake of brown needles all the way to the door. Admittedly, since I’ve become in charge of the household plants many of them end up that way as well.
I am making sure that will not be the case with this year’s Christmas tree. Everyday I top off the water level in the tree stand. All the decorations will not be added until Serena arrives home on the 23rd, but the tree stands so full in our living room as to almost discourage decoration. I take care of the tree partly because it’s the earliest and largest we’ve had, but there’s another reason as well.
Our smallest tree ever ushered in the era of Cindy’s cognitive decline; our largest tree likely will be the last of this same era. Like the smallest tree, the current one also has metaphorical significance. The fullness of shape resembles the fullness of our love. We always loved each other, of course, but hugs and other expressions of that love grew throughout the era that corresponds with these two Christmas trees.
I’ll continue to water the tree every day until after New Years. Through my care I intend for the tree to exit our house still full-bodied with needles, just as I intend for Cindy to leave this world full-bodied with love.