Enjoy life now but plan for the future

Here’s a story to help inspire special Christmas memories for your family.

Last year, I was flipping through an online catalogue when an idea for Christmas jumped to mind. The inspiration was a photo of an entire family wearing matching festive pyjamas – including the family dog!

The scene sparked my imagination. I promptly clicked ‘print’ and then looked for photos of members of my immediate family, printed these out, and cut and pasted the heads of my sister, parents and so forth, onto the heads of the people in the catalogue photo.

The result looked hilarious.

I scanned the retouched catalogue photo and sent it to my sister with the caption, “Christmas present idea for the family,” along with a message saying, “What do you think?”

A reply came quickly: She loved it.

My sister’s children are twins. They turned six years old at the beginning of this November. For years, they have looked forward to and enjoyed dance parties with their Auntie Chris, and birthday parties and dressing up together for Halloween. A pyjama party was a natural extension of this party theme.

We hatched a plan to give each family member one of the three styles of matching pyjamas, along with an invitation to a pyjama party on Boxing Day.

Fast-forward to Christmas Eve, which we celebrate with my father and his partner, at his house.

My father opened his present to find a pair of bright, white and green-stripped pyjamas, along with an invitation to a pyjama party. Not a typical gift an 80-year-old retired scientist expects to receive. He was clearly puzzled.

On Christmas Day, my father joined the rest of our family as we opened more presents. Lots of laughter ensued as more striking festive sleep wear and pyjama party invitations where unwrapped. While Dad still seemed puzzled, the twins were immediately excited at the idea and could hardly wait until the next evening.

For what seemed like an eternity for the kids (and my sister, who was asked over and over again, “Is it time now for the pyjama party?”), the evening of Boxing Day finally arrived. When we finished and cleared away dinner, the twins insisted it was time for the pyjama party to start. One-by-one, we emerged looking like candy canes. It was a hilarious sight.

We were laughing in the hallway when my father arrived. When we realized he had not brought his pyjamas, like dominos our smiles disappeared and there was a collective groan of disappointment.

Then suddenly I noticed a green stripe inside his collar. “He’s wearing them underneath his clothes,” I announced, to the jumping delight of the children. The event was back on and enjoyed by all.

When the holidays were over my sister and I gave each other a huge hug and high-five before she got in her car to drive back to Ohio. We were on a roll: A surprise 80th birthday celebration and scholarship we stealthily organized for our father just two months prior had been profoundly memorable.

The context of this story may help you understand the point: Yesterday I learned my father has lung cancer.

He has been in the hospital for two weeks getting a multitude of tests to figure out why his heart rate and his breathing rate were so elevated. During this time, we have been able to focus on the present, because we lived the past to fullest and planned for the future.

I think these are some of the steps we took that have been helpful:

• Prepare a will in advance when your life is calm. My father not only prepared a will in advance, he even asked for our input.

• Pre-plan your funeral arrangements. About 10 years ago he and I chose his cremation plot together. Even though the view from the site obviously doesn’t matter we picked a good one anyway, laughing about the irony of this silly consideration that was important to both of us.

• Think about what you would regret not knowing about your loved one and then take the time to hear the stories. Over the years, I have listened to Dad’s experiences during the Second World War and the Hungarian Revolution. I know how he met my mother, clever jokes he played on family and friends, and sentimental details including that he made my crib himself. I took care to write these stories down.

• Record the sound of your loved one’s voice. I have saved some of my father’s special phone messages over the years, so I will always be able to hear his voice.

I hope sharing this story helps you make the most of your precious family time together, at Christmas and throughout the year.

Christina Marshall, APR, is a strategic communications consultant specializing in health and lifestyle markets, who lives in the Beach. She can be reached at info@vivantcommunications.ca and blogs at www.vivantcommunications.ca/wp

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