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Death and disability

My first day off work since I finished at the old job has been a tiring one.

[info]artw needed the car first thing to get B to her day-care centre, and it being the day of U's school's Christmas service and also U's birthday, the only way to ensure timely arrival of at least one parent at the service (less important) and guaranteed Cake for U and her classmates (essential) was for me to climb on my bike, for the first time in months, and drop by the shop on the way to U's school. It's only 7 km, but boy was I wrecked by the time I got there.

The service itself was quite different from last year's. Then, the school had got all the kids to dress up and play a part, but it was actually a bit distressing to see U marched about uncomprehendingly if beautifully dressed up as an angel. (B, who was still at the school then, vehemently opted out of participating, as is her wont.)

This year, they had got the kids who were able enough from each class to participate to the level of their understanding, doing readings and prayers and a smaller-scale Nativity enactment. It was more chaotic, but, I felt, more compassionate. The sound system was pretty poor and we parents sitting way up at the back of the assembly hall (which used to be the church of a leper colony on the outskirts of Leuven) couldn't hear much; and those of us whose Dutch is not at that level got even less. But I felt that our barrier to comprehension, in a way, echoed that of many of the children.

I had to cycle home again (and, I admit, there was some walking involved) and then take the car for a mid-day engagement (which I will write about below) in Antwerp, and then zoom off to B's daycare place in Tienen to collect her, without getting lunch until I finally made it back home at 3.15. Then, [info]artw's sister H arrived, and  we have spent the evening helping U to celebrate her birthday; presents include jigsaws which she has done with great determination, and a bouncing and singing Tigger which has provoked both trepidation and fascination.

My mid-day engagement in Antwerp was for the funeral of the wife of a friend (also a B). She was only 34; she suffered a stroke while giving birth to their daughter in February, and never recovered consciousness. I had only met her once, at our work Christmas do a year ago, when she filled me in on her work as marketing manager for one of the big computer game companies. The church (a big one in Edegem near Antwerp, dedicated to the Holy Family) was packed out - she was a local girl; my friend is from New Zealand, but some of his family had flown in for the occasion (of course, we've all known for some time that this was likely to happen).

It's grim to attend such events. The somewhat bemused if inarticulate comments from the ten-month-old little girl were especially poignant. When B, normally a pretty jovial and light-hearted colleague, paid his tribute to the woman he had hoped would be his partner for most of the rest of his life, I wept; and I was not the only one.

For a lot of people, Christmas is not a particularly happy time. My godmother, my mother's stepmother, died on Christmas Day a few years back. The following Christmas was the time when we realised that our little B had undergone that retreat into her own mostly happy, but somewhat confused world from which she has not emerged, and into which U has followed her to a certain extent. We've learned to roll with it, and I'm sure my friend B and his little girl will; but I'll be thinking of them this Christmas, and next, and after that as well.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC)
There really are no words, are there?

Christmas doesn't do itself many favors by being so laden with Must! Be! Joyous! Perfect!! though it's less-so here than in some places I've lived or visited. The key seems to be the freedom to take what one needs and leave the rest as surely as if it were poison.

Wishing you and artw meaningful happiness, and happy meanings,... I've been bad about keeping in touch after the cancelled lunch date. Maybe sometime soon we can make a date with The Last Samurai as the evening show?
Dec. 23rd, 2006 06:09 am (UTC)
Thanks, let's liaise about that one!
Dec. 23rd, 2006 08:27 am (UTC)
Yeah, perhaps we should wish each other a Not-too-bad-relatively-speaking-with-several-happy-moments-that-you-notice-and-cherish Christmas.;-) I've been reading your posts, I know you're busy. Hope to see you soon.
Dec. 22nd, 2006 11:57 pm (UTC)
I guess the last gasp of traditional Christmas magic for me was when my Grandad died in a car accident on 23rd December while coming to see us. That will be 23 years ago tomorrow, but the memory doesn't go away. Maybe its the time of year but things like that seem to happen around now.

My thoughts go out to your friend and his family, and to you and yours.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
Edegem, big church. Would that be the one with the round roof? Also called "De basiliek". It actually has a reproduction of the cave of Lourdes in the garden, IIRC. It is also behind our corner.

Christmas always was a strange day for my militantly atheist family. It was never clear what was celebrated and gifts would appear on new years evening, not Christmas. But after my father died on Christmas it became even more a 'pretend' day of difficult emotions.

I'm happy that I married a christian woman so that now I can just transfer all Christmas related stuff over to her and have no more conflicts. Well there is of course the issue of what happens if our son asks a religious question to me ;-)
Dec. 23rd, 2006 06:15 am (UTC)
You mean this one? No, I thought it might be as well, as it was the first one I saw coming into the town, but there was visibly no funeral going on; after some hunting around and asking passers-by I realised it was this one, and was still in time.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
We live close to the first church, but zoutke prefers to go to the second as the congregation is nicer. And then I would have been rushing to the start-of-holiday party at school.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 06:17 am (UTC)
PS - I thought you must live pretty close to there! Unfortunately I was under serious time constraints so could not have dropped by - and anyway I guess you would have been at work.
Dec. 23rd, 2006 11:52 am (UTC)
And very nice piece of writing.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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