Donít lose hope
Two weeks ago, Gideon and I left Carroll County to spend the holidays with my family in Texas. So much has changed since I was a little girl, but we still have Christmas dinner at Nanaís house. It used to be me, Mom, Nana, Uncle Doug and Papaw Jimmie.
I fondly remember the years weíd all gather around in the cramped living room to open gifts. Papaw Jimmie loved to buy gifts for people, often taking me to find something for Mom a few weeks before Christmas. One year, wrapping paper caught fire and we nearly burned the house down. We had a good, cathartic laugh when the fire stopped. Iíll always remember Christmas ham, Nanaís beautiful china and Papaw putting scratch-offs in everyoneís stockings.
We lost Papaw in 2004 to suicide, and weíve slowly been losing Uncle Doug to mental illness since then. Uncle Doug is schizophrenic and unable to take care of himself anymore. When I was a kid, we were incredibly close. He helped me study for tests, introduced me to horror movies and even inspired my first words. Itís been hard to see him slip away over the years. It hurts to see someone you love lose themselves. Itís one of those things I canít think about too much, or Iíll feel overwhelming sadness.
Despite how things have changed over the years, I was certainly looking forward to spending time with my family this Christmas. This year, it was me, Mom, Nana, Uncle Doug and Gideon. Gideon has been there for Christmas Day a few years now. Iím so happy to have him, but it does make me sad to know he never met Papaw.
For those of us who have lost someone special, the holidays are often accompanied with sadness. I felt like crying on Christmas morning when I remembered, like the past 14 years, Papaw wouldnít be there to pass out scratch-offs. It makes me even sadder to know Gideon will never meet Papaw. I think he would have liked him, but Iíll never know. The not knowing is the hardest part.
Uncle Doug is still with us, but holidays have been hit or miss for years now. He usually eats dinner with us and retreats to the couch when heís done, with very little conversation in between. I had started to fear Gideon would never get to meet Doug, even though heís met Doug on many occasions. Papaw and Doug are two of the most important people in my life, and my husband will never truly know them. At least thatís what I thought on Christmas morning,
Then the best thing happened. We had our traditional Christmas dinner, with Nanaís mouth-watering ham and perfectly seasoned gravy. Nana went on and on about how the dressing was dry this year, the way she always does. We finished dinner and decided to play some games. Mom invited Doug to play, and I expected him to decline. To my surprise, he didnít.
I donít even know how to explain what it felt like to watch Doug actively participate with us. I havenít seen him so involved in years. He smiled and laughed like he used to. I closed my eyes and it felt like old times, if only for a second.
Have you ever watched someone you love slowly lose themselves? It feels like youíll never get them back, like the memories are all you have left. To make new memories with Doug filled me with such joy. I fell asleep the same way I woke up that day Ė crying, but this time from happiness.
When it comes to mental illness, you have good days and bad days. I feel so grateful to have seen Doug on a good day. To those of you who have loved ones struggling with mental illness, I completely empathize with you. Sometimes, it feels like you should just give up hope.
After all, itís hard to be disappointed when you donít have any hope. I hope you donít really believe that, though. Hope is what keeps us going. Hope helps you see people at their best, even when theyíre at their worst. It means youíll be there for all those small happy moments, because you kept hoping through the pain.
This Christmas, I saw just how beautiful those moments can be. I wish you all a new year full of love, happiness, and most of all, hope.
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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.