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Susan M. Gugliuzza, R.N.C., M.S.: ‘Star of Christmas’ brought us great joy

My maternal grandmother turned 80 while I was living in Southern California. With the passing years, her vision and hearing grew dim. I telephoned often, saying, “Hello, my Grandma-Honey, do you know who this is?” She would lovingly laugh, answering, “Yes, it’s my dear Susie.”

Her penmanship was impeccable. In one letter she wrote, “…after all, we grew up together, not in age but in closeness.” From age 11, I had the privilege of living next door to Grandma, spending countless days with her learning to cook, bake and preserve foods while listening to her talk about life, memories and dreams.

The time came when Grandma’s muscles could no longer support her tiny frame. Reluctantly, family sought assistance with care from a nursing home. I watched as, at first, they took her to physical therapy daily. I would attend sessions, cheering her on. I secretly hoped she would defy all odds, regaining muscle strength to return to the home where she had lived for so many decades. Her ability to traverse the rooms, stairs and furniture with the remotest of vision made her appear as a ballroom dancer floating across the floors.

Christmastime was special between us. We spent numerous hours baking chrusciki and placzek together. Sharing in our Polish heritage, we always celebrated Wigilia in her home. Grandma would pull out her large butcher-block board and add a dusting of white flour, transforming the table into a snowy blanket. Mixing of pierogi dough was done directly on the board. With every pinch and douse, I was kneading dough, creating delicacies under her direction.

It was near Christmastime 2010. My Grandma-Honey lay quietly in her bed, eyes perpetually closed. Visitors would come and go, sitting at the bedside, speaking to her, receiving little response. Thinking Grandma needed a little Christmas spirit, I would read her “The Star of Christmas.” Announcing my arrival with, “Hello, Grandma-Honey, do you know who this is?” I scooted her over so I, too, could fit on her bed. Grandma did not move a muscle or make a sound, her eyes remained closed, her breathing soft and steady. My arms outstretched, holding the book above our heads, I began reading, “Snuggled in my chair beneath the Christmas tree, I took a deep breath of the pine, peppermint, sugar-cookie sweetness that filled the living room.” As the little girl in the story slept, Christmas ornaments came alive, asking, “Who is the star of Christmas?”

I began reading about China Doll. Decades ago I purchased, for my Grandma, a china doll that was dressed in red velvet. While reading, “China Doll slid down a strand of silver garland, then waltzed around my feet in a whirl of brown curls and red velvet,” I noticed movement. I glanced over at Grandma; her eyes were wide open. In sheer amazement, I turned toward her saying, “Your eyes – they’re so beautiful, such a pretty shade of hazel-blueish-green!” It was months since anyone had seen her eyes.

I continued to speak to Grandma, reminiscing about her doll, our Christmases, baking, real silver tinsel on her tree and aromas of home cooking permeating everything. As I turned to look at her one more time, I saw those beautiful eyes with tears streaming down each cheek. I knew, at that moment, that my Grandma-Honey, physically, cognitively, emotionally, knew I was there. We did celebrate another Christmas together! My Grandma-Honey passed away shortly after that visit, Dec. 16, 2010, at age 95.