She loved Christmas shopping, and Christmas parties, and Christmas decorating, and Christmas music. It was something she and I shared, this love of the holidays, and it’s something that I am not sure how to recapture.
My mother, Faye Riggs, sustained injuries that ultimately were too tough to survive during a car accident on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. She was on her way to a friend’s house near Short Gap for lunch and then they were going to do some shopping. Mom loved to shop. And even though the guest bedroom of her house was already full of wrapped and tagged gifts – and I had decorated her tree just a week before – she was one of those “Christmas isn’t over until the last package is purchased” kind of people.
In the week that followed her car accident, Mom seemed to be on the rebound. And so our holiday season as a family was spent beside her hospital bed – watching corny Perry Como Christmas specials on the wall-mounted TV. She joked that “next year for Christmas, I am ordering everything for you guys off these TV commercials.”
Once Mom was moved from ICU to a regular observation room, we were able to visit with her for as long as we wanted. And we brought her in an artificial tree – a little scrawny thing but it was rather cute – if not primitive. But my dear friend Jane had already sent Mom this beautiful arrangement with candy canes and big red flowers in a pretty white basket.
And I said to Mom, “Well, doesn’t that make my little tree look pathetic.” And Mom replied “well, it’s the thought that counts, son.”
When things were looking up a bit and we were encouraged that Mom’s next step of recovery would be going into physical therapy somewhere locally, she sighed and said “well, Christmas this year is going to suck.” I told my nephew I was going to have that embroidered on a pillow.
But I told Mom, “No it won’t, because Christmas is where you are. So if you are in physical therapy or in a hospital bed or at home, we will bring Christmas to you.”
And I promised her that “wherever you are, that’s where Christmas will be.”
I told her if we unwrap our gifts on Christmas Day or New Years Day, the holiday season is only defined by being together and being surrounded by love. And she liked hearing that
On Dec. 19, 2018, using medical terminology, Mom suddenly “coded” and she needed emergency brain surgery. Even then, the surgeons told us if she survived the surgery, she probably would not survive the night. But she did.
Although she never regained consciousness, she held on for six more days. She let go when that was her only option and even then it was after everyone she loved had stopped at the hospital to say goodbye.
My nephew and I alone were faced with “that decision” – and after talking at tearful length with medical specialists and each other, we decided it was unfair to Mom for us to hold onto her. And even though we had a fear of losing her and facing life unknown without our matriarch, we could not be selfish.
But this was Dec. 24. And so we asked the doctors if could spend one last Christmas with her and they nodded. And we did spend Christmas with Mom. On Christmas Eve, we held her hand, and we played carols and hymns off my phone. We read the Christmas Story – the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
And the strangest thing happened. Although she never opened her eyes, Mom had tremors in her left arm. Her hand shook and then her arm and then eventually into her shoulder. And doctors could not tell us what was causing it. Her neurological reports showed no signs of why her body would be reacting like that. There was simply no explanation for it.
But when we told her it was Christmas Eve and we were all there to spend it with her like we had promised, she was calm. When we played her music and read the Bible to her, she rested. Her arm and hand stopped moving.
When our services with her ended and the music stopped, the trembling started over again. I said it was labor pains. Mom’s spirit was ready but her body was hanging on. She was waiting for us to wish her Merry Christmas, tell her we love her, and let her go.
I truly believe Mom could hear us and she wanted to know that our lives and Christmas would continue. Mom was waiting to hear that as a family we would look after one another and continue to keep the holiday season and our love for her in our hearts and continue to make Christmas special.
We called the doctor and the nurse into the dark and silent night of the room and we held her while they went through that horrible methodical process of removing Mom from life support. And Mom passed peacefully with her family surrounding her at 12:25 a.m. on 12/25.
Mom liked to tell a particular story. It was one of her favorites. And I have shared this in some form in writing before.
When she gave birth to me, it was a hot end-of-August day. And when she woke up in the recovery room, the nuns out in the hallway were singing Christmas carols. Mom couldn’t figure out why.
She always said that is probably why I love Christmas because Christmas music was the first music I heard when I came into the world. It seemed only appropriate then that Christmas music would be the music Mom would hear when she was leaving it.
Over the next 12 months, people have said to me that it must be so awful to lose your Mom on Christmas Day. And while yes, I did lose my Mom – and this new “untethered” normal is still the hardest transition of my life – I gained a very special angel on Christmas morning, 2017. And I have no doubt I will feel the presence of that angel this holiday season.
Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you. I miss you. Especially this year and especially this time of year.
You always told me to believe in the Christmas spirit and now you are that spirit for me. And I thank you for the most precious Christmas gift of all – the gift of being able to say a truly amazing woman is and always will be my Mom.