This is a true story, told by Madison herself.
Grandma had been in the hospice for weeks and we all knew the end was drawing near. The cancer was eating away at her so every day there was less Grandma and more of the white sea of sheets on her bed. We all took turns keeping vigil.
It was my turn that evening. There was joy and pain in it. I had so many memories of my Grandma and they played in my mind as I watched her sleeping. Then her dark eyes opened and fixed on me.
"Yes, Grandma," I answered.
She coughed, then said, "Well, I know time's short. I guess it's time for me to give you the secret recipe for my lemon cake."
I leaned forward eagerly. I had only been trying to wheedle that recipe from her for the past dozen years! Every time I asked, she would smile slyly and say, "Not yet."
One thin hand, almost translucent, beckoned me nearer and I leant down to hear her whispered words.
"The recipe for my special lemon cake is," she paused and there was a twinkle in her eyes as they met mine. "It's a packet of Betty Crocker's yellow cake mix, a packet of lemon pudding mix, and a sugar glaze." She gave a soft snort. "The secret is the lemon pudding mix."
She nodded and lay back again, while I sat, stunned by her revelation. Suddenly she cackled. "Oh Madison, girl: you make everything so complicated. Things are rarely as difficult as you think they are. Think simple, girl. Think simple. Just make things as easy as you can. There's enough that's hard in life without making it more so."
After a bit she closed her eyes again and drifted back off to sleep. I sat and held her hand for a while and then gave up my place to my mother. Grandma died, without waking up again, a few hours later.
When Madison told me this story I was struck, and asked if I could relay it here, and she gave me her permission and her blessing.
We do make things complicated – at least I do. I'm always looking for that secret recipe to make everything perfect when there is no secret recipe.
In practical terms I must learn that there is no shame in letting others do the work. It's perfectly acceptable to serve mince pies made by Mr Kipling and to buy a ready-stuffed turkey crown. I don't have to be a domestic goddess this Christmas: I can be a relaxed and happy mother instead.
Last night our family sat around the dinner table and talked about what we all wanted out of Christmas. The answer was not any specific gift, or a particular food or tradition: we wanted an enjoyable family time.
My task now is to plan a simple Christmas, with as few complications as possible.
I wonder what Madison's Grandma would have done?
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