Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Surprises

If someone were to ask us to name the things our family values most, I think time spent together would be near the top of the list.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m starting to notice that quite of few of us like orchestrating surprises for the people we love.   It’s not just our immediate family either; it seems to go back a few generations.  

As we’ve spent time together over the past weeks and months, I’ve enjoyed hearing stories of surprises people have pulled together.  My Uncle Jack requested that we share the story of the Christmas surprise from 1981.  As I was less than a year old at the time, I decided to ask my mom and my Aunt Robin to share what they remembered.


From Jill (My Mom)
In October 1977, my Mom underwent open heart surgery and received  a valve replacement.  In December of that same year, my Dad had a stroke which resulted in the removal of a blood clot at the base of his brain.  Needless to say, my parents didn't travel much.  Unfortunately, they were not present at the birth of our first child, Michelle (February 1981).

Shortly after Thanksgiving 1981, I received a phone call from my sister Robin.  She and my brother Jack were offering to pay our way home for Christmas.  I hadn't been home in over two years, and my family had yet to see Michelle.

So the day before Christmas, my husband Mike, Michelle (10 1/2 months old) and I flew from Durango, Colorado, to Lexington, Massachusetts.  Our son Chris was "in the making." (He was born on my Mom's birthday:  March 1, 1982).

We snuck into the house and strategically placed ourselves in front of the Christmas tree.  My parents and my sister Chrissy were both surprised and overjoyed.  It was an awesome Christmas present for Mom, Dad, and Chrissy.

Thanks again and again, Robin and Jack!   


From Aunt Robin
For us, Christmas is all about spending special times together.

In the fall of 1981, Jack and I started planning a special Christmas surprise for the family.  Together we paid for Jill, Mike, and Michelle McCotter to fly to Boston for the holidays.  But we didn't tell anyone what we were scheming! 

The McCotter Family: Mike, Jill, and Michelle

A day or two before Christmas, the snow was falling, and it was already getting dark.  Jack and I were headed out to go "shopping."  I was surprised that no one questioned us, as we had never shopped together before, and it wasn't like Jack to start Christmas shopping any earlier than Christmas Eve!  The important thing is that we got away with our story.  

I'll never forget the trip to the airport.  We were so excited to see all our plans come to fruition!  We picked up our “gifts” (remember, we were “shopping”) at the airport and proceeded home.  Jack went in the kitchen door as Jill, Mike, Michelle and I snuck in the living room door.  (This was a first as we never used that door!)  Michelle was placed under the Christmas tree as Jill and Mike sat on the couch.  

Jack was able to usher Mom and Dad into the living room.  I remember them both at the top of the three stairs…  Mom had her mouth open for about ten minutes.  Dad had the most wonderful look on his face.  It was priceless.  I cried—as I often do, even during happy times. 

The Williams Family Christmas Tree where we placed Michelle.

Dad on Christmas morning, 1981.
The Christmas Tree after opening gifts.

The days we spent together were full of laughter and fun.  Paul had come down from Maine.  Chrissy was home from UVM for Winter break.  It was wonderful.  Michelle's favorite gift from Santa was her Big Mouth Singers.  They would make her “belly laugh,” which, in turn, made the rest of us laugh.  It was such a special week.  As always, it was hard to say goodbye. 

Paul and Jill watching Michelle as she played with her Big Mouth Singers. (I wish I could find the picture of Michelle!)

Big Mouth Singers

Michelle loved being thrown up in the air by her dad. It almost gave me (Aunt Robin) a heart attack!

A few days after the McCotters had returned home to Colorado, Jack and I received a letter from Dad.  He thanked us each for the greatest gift he had ever received.  He thought Michelle was such a beautiful baby girl and he was so thrilled to be able to spend time with her and with Jill and Mike, too.  It was the nicest note I ever received from my dad.  In the note he said it was a Christmas he would never forget.  He was right.


Mom and Aunt Robin:  Thank you for telling the story again for all of us!  Aunt Robin:  Thank you for the pictures, too.

So How is Billy?
He’s amazing, really.  He seldom complains—though I can usually tell from his face when things are hard.  We have difficult conversations with the doctors, and he just takes them as they come.  It’s not like he doesn’t feel how hard this is; he just doesn’t complain about it.  He tries to make the best decision he can, given the options he has.  And he’s grateful for every day he can spend with family and friends.

As we talked with the oncologists earlier this week (and what a week it was!), he said that some of the most important things for him and this point in his life are to spend time with family and friends.  We’re trying to do that as much as we can.

The medical side of things, though, makes this a bit more challenging.  Billy’s pain has gone up quite a bit.  The doctors can’t figure out and clear reason why, so they think it’s probably because his body has become more tolerant of the dilaudid.  (For those who are curious, the PCA works a lot like my insulin pump.  The basal is supposed to cover is base pain needs; and the bolus should handle the “spikes”.  If the PCA is well-adjusted, the basal dose helps round out the “spikes,” so they’re not so intense.  Billy’s decision to keep increasing the basal indicates that the base level of pain has increased.)

Every Monday and Thursday, the nurses draw blood for Billy’s labs.  This week, we heard some difficult news.  The bilirubin level (in the liver) is continuing to rise, indicating that his liver is working less and less like it should.  He also had an increase in his white blood cell count this week (normal is 4-10; he's at 11+), which is either from an infection in his blood stream or from the cancer itself.  The doctors are running more tests, and we will know by the end of the week whether Billy has a blood infection.  If it is an infection, Billy can receive antibiotics to treat it.  If not, it’s hard to say what could be done.

Billy has also had 2 major nosebleeds this week.  Both have interfered with his NG tube, and both have required the attention of nurses and doctors.  We don’t really know why they’re happening.  I only mention it, so you know more how to pray.

So given all of this, we’re taking one day at a time, and we’re trying to spend as much time together as we can.  That time looks different now than it did two weeks ago.  Billy is much sleepier now; he seldom makes it through a full movie.  Time together looks different than it did six weeks ago, when Billy had a lot more energy to go for walks and joke around with family and friends, and when he and Bobby ganged up on me in the gun fight.  Now, he misses lots of phone calls simply because he’s sleeping when his phone buzzes.  But time also looks really different than it did nine weeks ago, when Billy was in the ICU with a septic infection.  We’re grateful for any time we get to spend together—and even though Billy’s health seems to be “headed in the wrong direction,” as the doctors put it, we’re still hoping for miracles.

Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers!


  1. Hi Michelle.
    My husband, K.C. Bouldin, met Will out here at Fort Rucker and I met him once. I have been following your blog for a while now and praying for him every night and any time I thought of him.
    I will continue to pray for him. I am also praying for yall (his family). Keep looking to God and trust in Him. I hope yall are able to share many memories right now and are able to make this Christmas one of the best. Not with presents, but with love and time with each other.
    In God's Love,
    Christina Bouldin

  2. {{{{{Billy and all }}}}}}} One prayer at a time - with FAITH xoxoxox

  3. This is an aside, but I have never seen a photo of Mr. McCotter, your dad. :)

  4. Hi Michelle, Its not easy seeing someone you love go through all this. I know, my husband has been battling Colon Cancer with mets to his lungs. You have the right attitude... focus on what's really important. Time together. Family. Faith. Draw on that strength. It will sustain you. May God fill your heart with peace and hope this Christmas!

  5. Thinking of you always, praying that you will find peace and love in these days with Billy. What a brave family, you are an inspiration.

  6. (((Billy))) feel good soon-wishing you and your family the best. mindy

  7. I am a friend of the LaBlues and just want you to know that I have been, and will continue to, keep Billy and your family in my thoughts and prayers every day. I hope you find some peace in the holiday season and enjoy spending it with friends and family.


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