Not home for the holidays

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

It's snowing!

For some reason, whenever I see snow, I think of the holidays. I'm not sure why, because I've never experienced a white Christmas. Still, as the powder flew through the air last week, I suddenly realized it's November, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Christmas is close on its heels.

Now, I'm no holiday-hater, but this year, the season is lacking a bit of the traditional cheer. For the first time in my life, I'll be spending both Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family.

I know that for many people, this is simply a way of life, but it's a completely new and somewhat shocking idea for me. I keep telling both my family and myself that everything will be fine.

And it will be.

I fully intend to get a tree and decorate my apartment. I've warned my mother I'll probably call about a dozen times (though this isn't really anything new you should see my phone bill!). I'm planning to work the holidays to keep myself busy. And I'm going home in January to celebrate a belated Christmas with everyone.

It doesn't really matter to me if we celebrate on the proper date. What's important is celebrating. Still, the delay isn't easy. The truth is, things haven't been going so well down in the homeland.

My grandfather has been visiting doctors to identify the source of his unexplained "weird" feelings. My older brother has been in two car accidents in the past four months.

And, a couple months ago, my sister was thrown from a horse and dislocated her hip. Not only was the pain of the dislocation something I cannot even fathom, she also has suffered a number of health problems associated with the accident. Doctors say she is at risk for something called avascular necrosis a condition in which the bone deteriorates after being deprived of blood for a time so she has to stay off the leg for an as-of-yet undetermined period of time. In addition, she suffered some nerve damage and, even without the bone problems, can't walk because she can neither move nor feel her leg properly.

And, as if that isn't enough, about a month ago, a number of conditions came together to produce a blood clot. Miraculously, the clot managed to break up before entering her heart, avoiding what the doctors said should have been death.

That's hard for me to say.

For as long as I can remember, I've understood death. I've accepted that people can leave at any time, whether because they die, move or change. I've said a lot of goodbyes in my life, and I know I take my chances when I choose to care about a person. But I also know the risk is worth the joy loved ones can bring to my life.

Still, until I got the phone call from my mother, sitting in the hospital, it never once crossed my mind that my sister could leave my life, let alone die. It was one of the few times in my adult life I've cried in front of anyone else and a thought that still brings tears to my eyes.

I have to apologize to all the other people in my life, because I probably shouldn't play favorites, but my sister is the person I love most in this entire world. I don't even know how to describe the way I feel about her.

When she hurts or cries, my heart aches physically. The thought of her in pain of any kind causes a visceral reaction of both sympathy pains and a deep desire to hurt whoever caused the pain. In fact, if there was a person to blame for this most recent accident, I'm not sure what I would have done. (Fortunately, you can't blame a horse.)

Likewise, when she laughs, my heart lifts. When she fell in love, I got giddy for her.

Meghann is far from perfect, and she'd be the first to admit it. But the woman has a million qualities that I admire. Where I hesitate to get close to people, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She may be a bit of a drama queen at times, but she is fiercely loyal and supportive of her friends. She likes her "label" clothes, but she also will give to someone in need without a second thought.

Her faith in God is subtle. It's not something she flaunts or even talks about much. But it also is so real, it's nearly tangible.

I know that this experience has been hard for her. I know that she's probably a bit depressed. I know she's bored sitting around my parents' house all day and night. I know she's sick of being on crutches (though she's used them enough in her life to be a pro). I know she's probably scared.

But she's also one of the strongest people I've ever met.

After the accident, I talked to her on the phone, and she said she was looking at the next months as an extended vacation. "You know how much I love just sitting and watching TV. Now I get to do that!"

I talked to her a day after the blood clot, while she was in the hospital. A nurse was trying to draw blood from her arm and couldn't find a vein. In the background, I could hear the poor nurse getting flustered and apologizing profusely for sticking Meghann so many times. My sister just laughed, said it was no problem and kept talking to me. My grandmother later told me the doctors and nurses raved about Meghann's positive attitude, politeness and constant appreciation.

Because that's the way she is.

She's no saint, and she gets impatient like anyone else. Heck, she can be a flat-out brat.

But she's also the woman who always has a smile for the person helping her, whether it's a clerk at a store or a nurse in the hospital. She's the girl who whined for a TV in her room for years, finally saved the money to buy it, then one day spontaneously gave it to the family living in our church's transitional shelter.

She's my sister.

Yes, I'll miss her during the holidays, just as I miss her every day.

I'll miss hearing her beautiful voice at church on Christmas Eve.

I'll miss opening presents and laughing at the little gifts in the stockings from Santa on Christmas morning.

I'll miss her excitement on Thanksgiving: The way she always gets up with my mom to help prepare the turkey, and the way the bird always ends up with a name, usually the name of the current man in my life.

But come Thanksgiving, I'll also be praising God, modern medicine, luck, fate and any other power I can think of for putting her in this world and for letting her stay.

Just like I do every single day of my life.

Because, like I said, it doesn't really matter what day you celebrate.

It's the celebration of holidays, love, thanks and family that matters.

Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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