OT: What the holidays mean to me has changed so much in the last year.

Martin in the snow. For a Zach Theatre Holiday play.

My family was like most, a bit contentious, a bit nostalgic and always busy, busy, busy. We were all getting ready for Christmas last year and converging on my parent's house. I'd done my usual sloppy job at shopping for presents while Belinda stepped in with her compassionately professional gift-wrapping skills and made my mostly mindless purchases at least presentable. 

On Christmas Eve my mother collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. By December 30th she was gone.

That's when my brother, sister and I realized that our 89 year old father's dementia was much, much worse than my mother had let on. She and a caregiver had been covering up my father's deteriorating mental condition for the last few years...

We all pitched in to help but my brother and sister are both school teachers and couldn't afford to take much time off. On top of that my sister lives in another state and is battling cancer. The responsibility for round the clock care of my father, and also finding a memory care facility for him, fell almost entirely to me. I made funeral arrangements for my mother while microwaving meals for my dad and me. I had my brother come over after school some days to watch my dad while I met with administrators from different "senior living" facilities in order to choose one that was right for him. And I spent hours with our family lawyers, doctors, and my parent's CPA in order to take over as dad's power of attorney while falling into the role of administrator and executor of my mother's estate. I didn't sleep much in January or February and spent most of my time in my parent's house in San Antonio instead of in my comfortable house in Austin. 

Belinda would drive down to bring me care packages of clothes, mail, paperwork, cash and kindness. 

Over the course of the last year I've been down to San Antonio more times than I can count. I've been to visit my dad every Sunday. We have lunch and catch up with news of the family; which he forgets minutes later. I've driven down on many weekdays in order to visit with a probate judge, ferret out paperwork at the house, and meet with other necessary professionals whose office hours don't include weekends. 

This Summer we rushed my dad to the hospital after his remotely monitored pacemaker indicated a few random cardiac arrests!!! I spent a week in the cardiac ICU with him, eating sandwiches from the gift shop and drinking coffee from the nurse's station. I couldn't leave him alone overnight because he became confused, agitated, angry. During that week I also put the family home on the market and, in five days, got a contract to sell. Which required more visits with my realtor, more paperwork, more input from attorneys. Selling a house with power of attorney means jumping through a few more flaming rings than normal...

By the end of the Summer I had figured out where all the essential paperwork of my parent's lives was and secured it. I worked with their three banks and their brokerage to establish my power of attorney to administer for my father. And I realized that I had barely touched my cameras and had worked for income for very few days in the first eight months of 2018. No family leave exists for the owners of small businesses. You pull the money out of your pocket and make due. 

With the house cleaned out and sold, the paperwork largely done, the legal work mostly complete I started reconnecting with clients and friends. I made up for a lot of lost work in the fourth quarter. The universe tossed in some nice jobs. The clients tossed in some nice checks. I missed one Sunday visit with my dad because of my travel schedule but Belinda was there with my dad in my place.

Now we've all hit a temporary stasis and I can reflect back over the year. What have I learned? Have I learned anything? 

Just the same stuff you've probably read many times. Life is short and unpredictable; enjoy it while you can. Adversity teaches you to cherish all the good and quiet moments. Make peace with your parents now because you can't make amends after they're gone. Work is never as important as you think it is --- I never thought I could put aside eight months of income in a year but we're still eating, paying our bills and even occasionally buying a decent bottle of wine. Taking a break from normal existence is an interesting process that showed me what's important in my life and what's not. Having millions of dollars in the bank will NOT prevent dementia, heart attacks, death and other unexpected travails. You can't take it with you. Being in love is a wonderful and miraculous thing. Getting rid of useless stuff now, while you can, is so much better than leaving behind dumpsters full of stuff your kids have to sort through. A good attorney saves not only money but mental and emotional wear and tear. A well written will can be a blueprint to get survivors through a perilous journey. Good relations with siblings is better than gold. The Christmas season can be tough on people; have a bit more patience during the holidays. Give more than you think you'll get. The greatest gift is the gift of time... 

Finally, the greatest gift you can give a loved one is....your time. 

Now, for me, the holidays are all about holding my family together and making sure everyone is taken care of. I see it not as a burden but a privilege. 

Real life does not exempt photographers.