Decades have passed since my infant daughter’s first Christmas. Baby Helen was only a month old when Christmas came. Because my husband and I were financially strapped, there were few presents under the tree, and most were for the baby. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, I barely slept. All I could think about was the excitement of Helen’s first Christmas. After years of waiting, we were the parents of a newborn baby.
My mother-in-law’s friends were eager to see Helen, so I decided to have an afternoon gathering for them. I made the invitations with gift wrap, typing paper, and leftover ribbon. The wording read: On December _____ (I can’t recall the date), exactly at three, you are invited to come for tea.
All of the friends accepted the invitation. I set the little round table in the front window with the few good things I owned. I made finger sandwiches and cookies for the tea. As requested, the friends came on time. “Helen wakes up a little before three,” I explained. “That’s why I wrote what I wrote on the invitation.”
When Thelma, one of my mother-in-law’s best friends, walked in the door, she had a big smile on her face. She scanned our sparsely furnished living room, saw the Christmas tree in the corner, and the few presents beneath it. Thelma let out a large sigh. “I’ve found Christmas,” she said. I didn’t understand her comment at the time, but understand it now that I’m a grandmother.
A new baby is a symbol of hope. Presents symbolize the giving spirit of the season. The holiday makes us think about peace in our hearts and peace in the world. People of all faiths understand hope and joy and the need for peace. What I remember most about Helen’s first Christmas is the immense happiness I felt.
I’ve thought of the holiday many times and Thelma’s comment about finding Christmas. In 2007, after four family members died in succession, I thought of it again.
December 25th is approaching – another Christmas without my daughter. Though she won’t be physically present, she is present in my mind. I am grateful for having Helen in my life. I can still see her as a newborn, a toddler, a school child, a boisterous teenager, a young mother, a competent engineer and manager. Helen loved Christmas, especially the gift-giving part, and even though she had little to give, she always gave to others. In fact, Helen worked on Christmas all year.
Holidays are difficult for the bereaved, but they are especially difficult for those who have lost a child. The pain of grief is razor sharp and the journey can be so long you think it will never end. Yet we have the ability to find peace. Time, grief work, and grief writing helped me find peace, and may do the same for you. This year, more than any other, I am grateful for my loving family and caring friends. I am grateful for the Open to Hope community and wish you peace.
One thing is certain: My daughter wouldn’t want me to be sorrowful for the rest of my days. She would want me to enjoy every day of my life. Thelma found Christmas and I’ve found it too. The hope of a newborn, joy of the season, and joy of giving reside in all of us.