Today marks seven years since we lost my dear father-in-law and Patriarch of the Dove family, Charles Sr. Yesterday my best friend’s mother passed away. Although expected, she had battled dementia for several years, I know my friend will miss her Mom profoundly. My step niece commented on Facebook that had things gone according to plan her third daughter’s due date would have been today. Unfortunately, baby Harlyn passed away in July, sixteen weeks into the pregnancy. Having experienced two miscarriages myself, I understand her grief. As much as Christmas is such a joy-filled time of year, for many it is a time marked with sadness, regret, loneliness, grief, and stress.
Our Pastor’s sermon last Sunday was specifically about how Christmas can be one of the most stressful and depressing times for many people. It is a tough season for those with health or financial woes, or those who do not have family around them and are alone, or those who will spend their Christmas grieving over a loved one who has passed away this year. We sing “Joy to the World”, but do so with heavy hearts.
I remember the first Christmas without my Mom. I had flown home to be with my father when he came out of hospital after his open heart surgery. He had been my Mom’s primary care-giver for two years as she battled breast cancer. He had been so consumed looking after her, he had neglected his own health. When she passed, his body started to shut down, finally resulting in him requiring extensive surgery six months after Mom’s death. I came to help him for his first week’s recovery at home. I arrived three weeks before Christmas, and I could only stay a week as I had a young daughter and husband in Calgary who also needed me. I figured I could get Dad settled, and then rely on the good support system of friends and neighbours he had there in Victoria.
I arrived a day before he was to come out of the hospital so I walked into an empty house. It was eerily silent. Walking around my parent’s townhouse, I took note that nothing had changed since Mom’s death. Everything was exactly in its place. Dad had left furniture and nik naks where Mom had placed them. Her housecoat was still hanging behind the door in their bedroom. I half expected her to greet me and invite me to have a cup of coffee with her. My Dad had lived here in this place for months, alone, without his best friend, and I suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness for him. It was so strange and unnerving to spend the night in their house by myself. As the sun set, Christmas lights came on around the townhouse complex and I looked out the window taking in the Yuletide activity close by. My parent’s neighbours had their trees up in their front windows and I noticed festive wreaths on doors. Looking around my Dad’s house, I knew he wouldn’t have the strength or wherewithal to decorate this year. My mother had always loved Christmas. She always went way overboard in decorating the house to make Christmas so special for her family. My Dad had told me before his surgery that he wasn’t going to celebrate Christmas this year. “It won’t be the same without Mom here,” he said. “I will have a Blue Christmas I guess.” The lyrics from Elvis’ rendition of the song immediately coming to mind. As I sat there, alone in their home, I understood Dad completely. I felt such great loss. While all the neighbour’s Christmas lights twinkled around me, I sat in the darkness and cried.
I honestly do not know what changed in my heart overnight, but the next morning I woke up determined to bring the Christmas Spirit back into my Dad’s home. I was to pick my Dad up after lunch at the hospital so I spent the morning at KMart shopping and decorating Dad’s home. I picked up a little tabletop tree with brand new ornaments. I made a “Welcome Home” banner and tacked it in the hallway, and then went to pick up my Dad.
He was recovering nicely from his surgery and was pleased to see me. I wasn’t sure how he’d react to my Christmas surprise at home, so I was quite nervous when we came through the door and he saw first the banner and then the little tree I had put up in the living room. I was totally unprepared for my father’s tears. “You did this for me?” He could not take his eyes off of the tiny tree.
“Do you like it, Dad?”
He nodded. “It’s perfect!”
All the neighbours in the townhouse complex knew of Dad’s homecoming and came throughout the day for short visits and to bring Christmas baking and groceries for him and to reassure me that they would look after him when I went back to Calgary. Dad greeted each guest warmly with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” Then he would point to his tree and say, “Look at what my daughter surprised me with!” That evening, after dinner, he insisted on putting on a tape of Christmas music. We drank some eggnog, just the two of us, and reminisced about Mom, past Christmases, and then we started planning future Christmases together. It was one of the most wonderful days I ever spent with my Dad.
My Dad moved to Calgary after he was fully recovered, and he spent the next eight Christmases with us. He came to know Jesus as his Saviour and Lord, and spent quality time with each of his grandchildren before he went to his eternal rest in October 1999. I miss my Dad and my Mom and especially at Christmas I think so often of them. Of all my memories of them, none is more precious than that Christmas with my Dad that started out “blue” and ended up blessed.