This episode is full of emotion -- some despair, but mostly hope. Unlike other episodes where the various storylines can stand alone, in this one, the stories converge and all seem to be affected in some way by the Kristina story.
Kristina is once again reminded that she's not in control of her situation when her plan that the kids have "the best Chrismas they've had their entire lives" is waylaid. Instead, she winds up in the hospital with septic shock and weakly asks Adam, "Am I gonna make it?"
Kristina's video message to her kids, in the event she dies, reflects many of the ideas that I expressed in my last post, "Inside the Mind of a Mother Dealing with Cancer". In the message to Haddie she lists the many traits that Haddie possesses that make her proud -- "I know you're gonna shine." Kristina likely does not feel that she would have been cheated of the opportunity to raise her, a feeling that I'm sure plagues her in regards to the younger children. Her main regret is that she will not see the wonderful future that awaits Haddie. She tells Max that she is proud of how far he's come, but she feels her job isn't finished --"My wish for you is to go out into the world, step out of yourself and let the world see.. what an amazing person you are." She fears that she hasn't given Max all that he needs. She is pained that she cannot hold Nora and love her --the basic needs of a toddler. Her role needs to be filled -- she reassures Nora that Daddy can provide the love and care that she can no longer give.
She says to all three kids: "I will never leave your side. I'll always be with you." As I've written before -- a mother's great horror is the thought of leaving her young children. There's no need to make a video for her husband -- it is a mother's love, sense of responsibility...and guilt that led her to prepare this message for her children.
Kristina's situation also sends a message to other characters, one that causes them to have powerful realizations and make important decisions. Adam seems stunned by the doctor's statement that Kristina is "likely" to turn around. "Likely" -- there is a possibility that she's not going to make it. A real possibility. And perhaps he is truly absorbing this for the first time. The doctor says, "There are no guarantees." We all know this. But we don't get it until it's staring us in the face. Then Kristina's own acknowledgement of her precarious situation, her making of the video, slaps Adam out of any denial he may have been harboring. He prays -- we've never seen him do this before -- "Please don't take her." Adam's epiphany.
Others in the family, Jasmine, Crosby, Amber, even Sarah have their own epiphanies. |They're hopeful, right?" Zeek is asked. Silence. Jasmine rushes from the room, and the viewer might anticipate that she's going to lose it -- instead, she and Crosby are introspective. "Life is painfully short," Crosby and Jasmine agree. But instead of despair comes hope, the decision to have a baby.
Life is short, don't push things off, don't waste the time you have, treasure what is truly meaningful. We've all heard it before. So have the Bravermans. But now they more than hear it; they feel it.
Amber is strengthened by wanting to avoid her mother's mistakes, and also because she realizes the preciousness of life. She breaks up with Ryan because she can't invest so much of herself, her valuable time, in him. Sarah tells Hank that she is sitting in a crummy mall bar drinking a horrible drink, dressed in an elf costume -- but she "feel[s] good because of you." She is suddenly struck by what really matters.
Religion has not played a role in the Bravermans' lives. In fact, in an earlier episode this season, Crosby laments to his parents that they did not give him any religious upbringing -- as he tries to understand the religious convictions of Jasmine's family that are being inculcated in his young son Jabbar. Later in that episode, Crosby learns about prayer from Jabbar as they kneel together to pray.
There isn't any prayer (except Adam's in the hospital). There isn't a reference to God (except when Zeek swears by God that Santa exists). But there is a holding onto something that embodies permanence, stability, and hope-- when life has been shown to be fragile, fleeting, and unpredictable.
My journey began shortly before Thanksgiving four years ago and for several weeks I was in that terrifying state of being intently focused on my tests, diagnosis, and the work of choosing doctors. As Chanukah was approaching, my kids were still in the dark, things presumably were normal. I asked one of my sisters half-jokingly if we could postpone Chanukah that year, Breaking out the bridge table and setting it up with our five menorahs, the shopping, the preparation, frying latkes, the stress the holidays bring were all daunting. My legs were heavy from the stress -- I felt like I just couldn't do it. Also, I didn't want to be haunted by the thought that this could be my last Chanukah.
I learned from my sister that the coming and going of the holidays, the immutable celebrations that provide the structure for our year and our lives are what we can rely upon in times of distress as well as happiness. The traditions and steadiness provide comfort and support, a reassurance that we seek especially when life's curveballs cause chaos and instability. A reassurance that even if bad things happen, life continues; there is still joy.
The Bravermans derive comfort from traditions -- Max always goes to the mall the day before Christmas and picks out the train for under his grandparents' tree, all the members of the family sleep over at the grandparents' home Christmas Eve and open their gifts together in the morning. Crosby and Jasmine are happy to be spending their first Christmas together and plan on future traditions.
The sorrowful scene in the hospital when Adam watches Kristina's video and the relaxed happy scene of the traditional Christmas morning at the Bravermans' are shown back-to-back. The juxtaposition may seem awkward, but the two scenes are intricately connected. The randomness of life vs. the stability of tradition. Helplessness vs. hopefulness.
Zeek had been emotionally torn apart by seeing Kristina in the hospital. At home, he gathers the grandchildren in order to erase any doubts of the existence of Santa -- "I swear to God, I saw him [Santa] and he winked at me. Santa is real and Christmas is magic. Christmas brings miracles. If you keep looking, truly watching, you'll see." He tells his story for the sake of the grandchildren, but maybe also for his own as well. Maybe he needs to take a jump of faith. Maybe he needs to believe.
Kristina recovers on Christmas day, and all fourteen of them crowd into her hospital room where they give her a matching scarf given to all the ladies in the family. Haddie finally arrives, after having been delayed by bad weather.
It's not the scenario that Kristina had in mind when she said that she wanted it to be the best Christmas they've ever had. But I think they would all agree that it is.
Let me know what you think. The next episode of "Parenthood" airs on Tuesday, January 1 at 10 on NBC.