3:00 AM. December 15, 1986. Reality could no longer be dodged, escaped, or veiled.
My mom was dead. Finally. My dad shook me awake in the wee hours of the morning to tell me that my mom was gone – finally succumbing to the cancer that had raped her daily, body and soul, for the past three years. I was truly never as alone as I was in that very moment – and I relive it every Christmas.
Christmas was ours! Steel Magnolias claimed blush and bashful – but my mom and I besieged the Christmas colors. We themed our house every Christmas. One year everything was red. Everything. Our lights, our ornaments, our tinsel…it looked like our house was ablaze. One year it was country Christmas. Every night for a week we strung cranberries and popcorn for the tree. All of our ornaments were carefully crocheted…by the wonderful elves on aisle 10 at Wal-Mart We used bubble lights to mimic candles. And I made fun of Mom because she wouldn’t use real candles on a dried-up, dead cedar tree.
A few years ago I tried the theme thing again. I bought a cadre of pink and purple decorations (they were on sale after Christmas!) and I decorated our sad little silver tinsel tree. It was a valiant, albeit hollow, attempt to reclaim Christmas from the inevitable sorrow I feel every year as it approaches. That tacky little tree provided a lot of laughter for our family….and though it was the ugliest thing ever, my mom would have loved hearing my boys laugh.
For the first time, that Christmas, I realized that our tradition wasn’t about a beautiful tree (thank goodness, because that thing looked like the 80’s threw up all over it!) It was about a beautiful life. It was one way my mom kept me close as I strained to grow up and get away. It was her chance to recapture the heart of her son. The theme was never, for her, about how we decorated our home. The theme was sharing those moments with me.
Today I am thinking of the kids in Newtown, CT – the ones who are waking up with dads who have no clue how to help sustain them through their sorrow. The ones who will graduate, go to college, meet their sweetheart, marry and have children, and grow up….all without their watchful, wonderful eye of their mothers. The ones whose Christmas traditions will never be the same, no matter how deeply they long to recapture those moments.
That morning – the day that 3:00 AM bomb was dropped on my home – I got in my car and went to my youth pastor’s house. I remember ringing his doorbell under the deep darkness that settles in just before dawn and collapsing in his arms – a puddle of pure, raw, ugly, emotional anguish – as he opened the door to his home and heart. I don’t remember one word he said to me that night – only that he opened the door.
I am praying today for the families in Newtown – for the ones who are ringing the doorbells…and the ones who are opening the doors.