Not all sad and tragic Xmas stories end on a sad note.
In the early 1950s my Uncle Carlos was driving home in the snow from a Christmas Eve party. He drove off the road and into a parked bulldozer. Aunt Lucy was holding their baby, Margarita, in her lap. The baby died. I remember the little white coffin that they placed baby Margarita into. My cousins were in casts and stitches. It was a very sad Xmas.
Forty years later, our own son died. During our son’s funeral, Aunt Lucy pulled Denise and me aside. “I have a secret to tell you,” she said while holding our hands. “You know how I would forbid everyone from entering my kitchen on Christmas eve while I spend the day baking cookies and other Xmas treats.”
“Yes,” I said. “We all love the aroma of your kitchen on Christmas eve. And we love what you bake. You are the best cook in the family.”
Aunt Lucy squeezed my hand and shook her head. “People think I bake and cry every Christmas ever because I love this time of year. But that’s not true. I cry because my daughter died on Christmas eve. I grieve for her every year. And yet, it is not so bad. Because I can bake and make everyone happy and they helps me, too.”
Aunt Lucy’s words stunned me. Our son died about 8 weeks earlier. Grief squeezed its burning tentacles around my heart. Would I be hurting like this for the next 40 years?
The following Xmas was overwhelmingly sad. I walked the shopping malls, by myself, trying to find presents for Denise. I dragged my smile-less face behind me as I trudged down the store aisles. I left several times empty handed. I ended up buying Denise everything on her list on Xmas Eve that year.
Time heals. It didn’t take long to understand better what Aunt Lucy was telling us. Yes, we will continue to grieve, but, when we give of ourselves, the grief diminishes and life gets brighter. Yes, there is an empty spot under the Xmas tree. And although we may place a few tears in that spot every year, we can smile knowing that his organs allowed four other families to enjoy more Xmas’s with their loved ones. His death, although tragic for us, has brought us other gifts as well, some continue to unfold.