Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in the Caribbean Part 1/3: Family Life and Christmas Ties

For the first time in my life, I have experienced a Christmas away from my family.  Hell, for the first time in my life, I experienced Christmas in another country.  

        I can picture it now, exactly how Christmas would have been back in Seattle.  On Christmas Eve I would make my way down to my madre's house in Yelm, WA and on Christmas Day I would spend it with my dad's side of the family most likely in exactly the opposite direction; Snohomish, WA.  Both destinations are about an hour and a half in distance from wherever my home is for that year in Seattle, WA.  Usually my two days of Christmas are filled with A LOT of driving and A LOT of people.  I could definitely do without the driving, but the people are what I could not do without.  

      This particular year, Seattle was dumping with snow.  As majestical and beautiful as this seems to me, many Seattle-ites have commented to me that it quickly becomes a nuisance.  So much so that only an eighth of my family on my mom's side could show up at Christmas Eve dinner held at my mom's house.  While I was dreaming of being with my family on Christmas eve, I quickly came to the realization that my Christmas was actually going to be quite nice.  First, let me give you a run-down of my family and what it is that might have made this Christmas a little different.  

My mom is from a large Catholic family, and she currently is one of ten children; originally 13.  Very recently, just before I left for the Peace Corps, two of my uncles passed away within a month's time.  This was an extremely difficult time for my mom and her brothers and sisters.  For my grandma, it has been a very trying experience for her as I can feel in my heart.  I cannot imagine what it is like to lose one child you love so much, but to lose two so close together would be...I don't even have the words for it.  Before coming to the Peace Corps, my family was struggling to hold on to positives.  I hated to leave my family at this particular time, a large part of me wanted to stay in WA to be there for them.  My family, despite their losses were still very supportive of my leave for the Peace Corps, and for that I will never forget what they gave to me.  I saw how much pain they were all in, and still they managed to love me and fill me with more hope than I ever could wish for.  My grandma has remained extremely strong throughout and I continue to look at her as a role model for my perserverance in life.  I am beginning to understand how it is my mother became such a strong and able individual.  

    I have always held my mom in my highest regards, whether she knows it or not.  Sometimes I may not show it very much, and sometimes it may feel as if I am taking advantage of her strength in ways; however, to me, she is my best friend, my strength, and a reliable source of reminding me what is most important in life.  The life that my mother has lived, filled with numerous successes, joys and also a few failures and mistakes along the way, has shown me how to get around any obstacle that stands in the way of my own dreams.   My mother is a large reason why I am in the Peace Corps right at this moment; her support and unconditional love has showed me that anything is possible if you just keep going for it.  

   My dad's side of the family also experienced the loss of my grandma shortly before I left for the Peace Corps as well.  It was a little different as we were expecting my grandma to pass, however, it was hard for all of us regardless.  My grandma was suffering from dementia for quite awhile before she passed.  Her life had a few bumps along the end of the road, as she suffered from beatings from her ex-husband (after my grandpa) and severe memory loss.  She lost the ability to remember who her family members were at most times, and lost her mental capacities and independence.   
Dementia is a very serious condition to be suffering with.  Here is a little information on Dementia taken from an online source that sums it up well:     http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dementias/dementia.htm

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships. They also lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control, and they may experience personality changes and behavioral problems, such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations. While memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, memory loss by itself does not mean that a person has dementia. Doctors diagnose dementia only if two or more brain functions - such as memory and language skills -- are significantly impaired without loss of consciousness.  Some of the diseases that can cause symptoms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.  Doctors have identified other conditions that can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms including reactions to medications, metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, infections, poisoning, brain tumors, anoxia or hypoxia (conditions in which the brain’s oxygen supply is either reduced or cut off entirely), and heart and lung problems.  Although it is common in very elderly individuals, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.

My grandma was loved very much by the family; especially by my grandpa.  He is the most romantic and loving individual I know to this day.  I have seen him love my grandma unconditionally throughout the years with no hesitation.  Despite their divorce, he still loved her every minute of every day.  He does not regret loving her so much, and I only hope that whoever I marry has the same love for me; as I do for him.  My grandpa will always be the strongest individual I know.

  My pops has been the quiet inspiration in my life.  His sense of humor and generally stubborn character is another reason I have followed through with my dreams.  I am constantly thankful that I have the sense of humor that I do; even though some people do not understand it sometimes.  Yes, it is dry and sarcastic, but it is me and it is my dad.  Without it I may not have progressed in the way that I have.  Because of my humor and my stubbornness, I can make mistakes and "fail" at times, but I have learned to laugh it off and move forward.  I can find joy in bad situations and I am very flexible when it comes to changing plans last minute (or in my case, not making plans at all).   My Dad has the ability to make you laugh at the littlest things and for some reason manages to be himself 24 hours a day.  Though my dad is sometimes a little secretive about his life, I would not change anything about him.  His light-hearted character is something that I can only hope to acquire one day.  And yes, he works very hard even if my brother would disagree with that one :P!  

    My "bro" also has a unique sense of humor.  He inherited that from my dad, of course.  His, however, is much more random and persistent.  If he thinks something is funny, oh boy, does he think something is funny!  I love this quality about him and I would never change it.  He also has the most imaginative and creative mind that I have ever seen!  I am not sure how but he comes up with ideas at all times of the day and thinks of even more creative ways to make them into reality.  He insists that one day he is going to be a millionaire, and you know what?  I actually believe him.  I only hope that he does not forget his poor little, humanitarian "sissy" when he is!  :D  Tyson is the motivation for my creativity in life and he has so much love in his heart.  He is a little stubborn as well, but it keeps it interesting.  He will always be a best friend of mine; regardless of puny sibling rashes.  

My family has a few new very much welcomed additions!  Both my dad and my mom got remarried a few years ago to wonderful and loving people.  My dad married a Vietnamese woman named Mai, who brings with her a very warm family.  I have NEVER seen my dad so happy and I am thanking the lord that he found her when he did.  I know she is going to be in our family for the rest of time, and I already consider her another mom!  My mom, on the other hand, is also the happiest I have ever seen her as well.  She married, Nola, a motivated and hard-working woman.  I am proud of my mom for being who she is each and every day, and am thankful that she is happy.  In life, you can make the decision to be unhappy and live by some ridiculous traditions or risk it and live more happily than you can ever imagine.  Just one more reason why my family's strength does not go unnoticed.  

    In addition to my mom and dad's recent marriages, my uncle, Kurt, also fell in love and married a Vietnamese woman.  She is gorgeous, and I am still trying to figure out how my uncle managed to snag this one!  With her, she brought, two new additions to the cousin's circle.  Linh is now one of my favorite cousins!  She is incredible!  My cousin Katie also had a son, Landon, not too long ago.  He is stealing all of the attention from the grandparents, but it's well-deserved.  He is going to break some girl's heart when he grows up!  There are so many more news stories that I can put in here, but this is getting quite long....I'll add them in one of the next posts.  

    The reason for why I wanted to write about all of this is to give you all a little background into how I have become the person that I am today.  Without my family, I would not be the person I am, and I most likely would not be sitting here, in the Eastern Caribbean working for the Peace Corps.  Because Christmas reminds me of family, I thought it was only fitting to explain my family and what we would be facing this Christmas.  The challenges that we faced, as a family, most recently (on both sides) most likely helped us bond even more at Christmas.  I'm sorry that I had to miss it, but I am thankful that I am where I am now.  After all, it's how close your heart is and not how far away you are.   I love you Bostwicks and Shellhorns!!!!!