It’s Christmas Eve and once again I’m trying to face the holiday with something other than dread.
It is the third Christmas that I’ve seen that my son hasn’t. I can’t begin to convey how heavy those words are, the weight they carry. For weeks now, I’ve been caught by moments in which I’m unable to breathe for the crushing pain in my chest. For the sake of those around me, I do my best to hide it, to push it aside and just muscle through, knowing the moment of breathlessness will pass, but the pain won’t.
Part of what hurts so much this year is thinking about all the families in Connecticut who know what I’m feeling, know this pain, this dread. I hurt for them as much as I do for myself, if not more. I had 20 Christmas mornings with my son; most of them had no more than six or seven. Still, even 20 was not enough, not nearly enough.
Knowing others hurt as bad or worse than I do does not erase my own pain, though I try to take comfort from what I did have and not focus on what I’ve lost. The simple truth is I'm trying very hard to find comfort in the saying that a burden shared is less heavy. It's been said so often by so many that I know there must be at least a kernel of truth in it, at least I hope there is both for myself and for all the others looking at this most joyous holiday through a veil of tears.
I try to focus on the good, on the memories and the joy that I used to feel at this time of year. I was one of those people who actually loved the crowds, the shopping, the hectic, frantic rushing around. I loved the music probably most of all and this year I’ve even tried to rekindle that love by pulling out all my old favorites, transferring them from cassette to CD to preserve them for another few years. Then, the realization that I there won't be another generation to give those carefully preserved songs of my youth to, the music of the season, of his life, our life together, makes me put them away, back in a box and think maybe I’ll feel different next year.
This year is the first in three that I’ve even looked at the handmade ornaments that came home from preschool days, made of popsicle sticks and construction paper. As I hung them on the tree I could hear the sweet, high-pitched voice of my then 3-year-old son as he proudly gave mommy his carefully made work of art. Each year, Santa brought him an ornament engraved with his name and the date, and those too are back on the boughs. I smile as I cry, remembering how he was, who he was at each stage of his life. Then, I simply cry knowing these precious mementos will not someday go to his children, children that will never exist.
Still, I am determined to find some peace if not joy this year. I have much to be grateful for, and that is what I chose to focus on, what I turn my mind to when the sadness threatens to overwhelm me and steal away my breath. I have a wonderful, supportive and loving husband who has stood by my side, held me up when I fell and dried my tears. He has even shared with me his sons, sons of my heart who miss their big brother, their hero with a depth that moves me once again to tears. I cry for the pain they feel and in gratitude that they too, loved him.
Every family has traditions at this time of year that are unique, yet shared the world over. I try to remember that every family is missing loved ones as I get ready for my new tradition of going to the cemetery to wish my baby, my precious son a Merry Christmas. I know I will see others there, carrying on their new tradition and we will nod at one another as if to say “yes, it is Christmas once again” yet we will not speak, for there are no words, no need for words.
It is said so often I think we forget the importance, but it bears saying again. Hug and kiss your loved ones each and every day, and most of all, on this Christmas Eve. Each day is a gift and each Holiday may be the last for someone you love, and if you fail to recognize them, to tell them you love them, you will be denying yourself the gift of having them now as well as guaranteeing a lifetime of regret. At least I have that, knowing my son woke every day and every Christmas morning of his life certain and confident he was loved. At least I don’t have that regret. It may not be much, but it is a start, something about which to be positive, something about which to be joyful. Maybe next year I’ll feel it.
I’m sharing this not because I want to make others sad, but simply to remind the others out there who are sad, who are feeling what I am that they are not alone. And to remind all of us to cherish what we do have, even if all that’s left to cherish are memories.
The music of the season has not healed me, but I have found some measure of comfort in this now famous re-working of "Twas The Night Before Christmas." For me, this is what the season will always and forever more mean, this is now my music of Christmas. It is said there are only two forces who have offered their live for yours. On this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of one, let’s also remember the sacrifice of the other. This is what my son believed above all else, that standing for us all was his honor, his duty. He chose to risk laying down his life for this, and all the days we cherish. I do not yet feel the comfort, but I do feel the pride through the pain. For this year, I guess that will have to be enough.
A Soldier's Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
and to see just who in this dwelling did live.
As I looked all around, a strange sight to see,
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stockings on the mantel, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
Medals and badges, awards of every kind,
a sobering thought came alive in my mind.
This house was different, it was dark, it was dreary.
I had found the home of a soldier,
I could see that most clearly
The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone,
curled up on the floor in this one bedroom home.
His face was so gentle, the room in such disorder
Not at all how I picture the home of a United States Soldier,
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up on a poncho, a floor for a bed?
Then I realized the other families that I saw this night,
owed their lives to soldiers, who were willing to fight.
In the morning round the world children would play
Grown-ups would celebrate a bright Christmas day.
But they all enjoyed freedom, each month of the year,
because of soldiers like the one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone,
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
The very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.
The soldier awakened,I heard his rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
The soldier rolled over, and drifted to sleep,
but I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours so silent and still.
as both of us shivered from the cold night’s chill.
I didn’t want to leave him on that cold dark night,
this guardian of honour so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, and in a voice soft and pure,
Whispered,“Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all's secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, may God bless you this night.