Santa Hat at the Deathbed

It’s 3:28 a.m. The day before Thanksgiving.  The telephone ring wakes her from a deep sleep into a deeper nightmare: it’s the Alzheimer’s unit calling to tell her that her dad has failed badly and if she wishes to pay her last respects, she needs to come quickly.

Her spirit is whipsawed in so many directions: the drowsiness of sleep vs. surreal super-alertness brought on by this unwelcome news; the slow motion sensations of dread vs. a burst of adrenaline to hurry, hurry; and the fear mingled with grief vs. relief for her beloved father who may finally be released from the prison of an illness that has violated his vibrant soul and identity.

She falls back on the pillow, the torrential rain pounding on the roof overhead, almost, but not quite, drowning out the loud thudding of her heart.  Not now, please not now.

Her kind husband immediately offers to go in her stead.  Thank you, no. But yes, please drive her there, over that spangled route that has carried her so often to dance classes that bring such tremendous joy.  Which she also drives to visit her father who no longer knows her name, but always smiles when she visits.  A smile of recognition?  Who knows, maybe simple happiness.

She’s awake enough now to hustle through getting dressed.  Quick!  She can’t be late, not this time.

Then, as she reaches for her coat, the Santa Hat that she has just started wearing for another holiday season falls to the ground.  She picks it up and begins to put it back, but pauses.   Should she wear it?  Will that be disrespectful or inappropriate?

Her husband says yes, wear it.  If you were dying, wouldn’t you like to see that icon of beneficence, laughter and joy?  Oh, right.  Of course.  She dons the Hat and throws on the golden, sequined scarf for good measure.

She looks out the car window at the wholly inhospitable, dreary and drenching weather.   Through the tears and the misery and the slashing sheets of rain, she realizes that this route will never be the same. It will now be paved indelibly with the dull ache of  loss and grief.

But then the cotton pom-pom at the end of her Santa Hat bops her in the nose when she turns to speak to her husband.  The surprising dance of the happy Hat makes her smile.   Her dad would love this–the Santa spirit, the affirmation of life and abundance and color, even in the face of much darker hues.

At the nursing home, she punches the code into the keypad to get into the lockdown unit.  Several of the staff are quietly doing their rounds in the dim light.  Some of the caregivers see her and her Santa Hat and their small smiles remind her of how we can all use a touch of laughter and joy.  Maybe even more so in these shadowy corners of life.

She’ll never know if her dad saw the cheery Hat through his closed lids.  But if he did see, or even sensed her, he would have viewed a deep red, plush hat like the one he used to wear on Christmas Eve.  A Hat that is a part of Santa Claus, and of her, that trumpets joy, magic and love.

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