As always, Christmas cards from seemingly unending numbers of friends lined our living room walls the season I was 16. And as always, I marveled at the masses of them. This year they were swirling in, even more abundantly, like so many gentle snowflake messages meant to remind us…we were loved. But nothing about this year was like always. For it had only been eight months since my 19 year-old brother Greg had been killed, his murder unsolved.
Mom stood back from her handiwork at decorating the tree, and breathed as she had through every one of my growing up years, “Isn’t it just like a fairyland, Pam?” Tears glistened in her eyes, even as the room reflected in the shining red balls hanging from the tree.
Keep everything normal… making spirits bright…don’t take time to think…
“Yes, Mom,” I agreed. If anything could take some of my pain, it just might be the peace and wonder of turning out all the lights except those on the tree and letting the glow flow over us, even as Andy Williams crooned in the background of silver white Christmases, one holy night and sweet Noel… a balm to our souls…
But could anything wipe out the memory of our last six years with Greg? They had seemed like one long rumbling earthquake in our family life as he looked for friends in all the wrong places…
The doorbell startled us both, a jarring sound against our milling thoughts, and we laughed uneasily. Lately, none of us really wanted to talk with anyone for fear of choking up, and the thought of unexpected visitors set my heart pounding. Dusty, our usually calm sheltie-beagle mix started her bark to beat the band at the first peal, and I grabbed her up into my arms before Mom could open the door. No use scaring whoever that was on our doorstep.
“My name’s Gloria,” she introduced herself. “I was a friend of Greg’s…” Her voice cracked slightly and she paused. “I’ve been wanting to stop by for a long time now…to tell you…how sorry I am. May I come in?”
Mom opened the door wider. “Yes, certainly…,” she said. Then to me, “Pam, take the flowers for Gloria.” I put Dusty down as she woofed a little softer in her “I don’t know you so I’m watching you” tone. But Gloria just commented on how beautiful she was, stooping down with confidence to pet her long soft fur. Dusty’s tail swished, a sure sign of acceptance. I caught mom’s eye, certain we were both thinking the same thing. We’d learned to be wary of Greg’s…friends.
I reached for the flowers, met Gloria’s smile. “Thank you,” I said as Mom led her to the couch. I sat across from them to listen. Dusty moved to sit protectively at Mom’s feet.
“I don’t remember Greg ever speaking of someone named Gloria,” Mom began.
Gloria sat back against the cushions comfortably. “We knew each other in grade school,” she explained. “I hadn’t seen him in years, but I just wanted to tell you about what a wonderful boy he was back then.”
As we sat and talked, Gloria’s open laughter and sweet reminiscence of my brother warmed a little of the ice from our hearts. “Greg was one of the first ‘dates’ I had,” she confided. “We were just kids, but he impressed me because he was such a gentleman. He opened doors for me and took my arm. He was always so thoughtful and even brought me a rose.”
Again, I could almost read Mom’s thoughts, because I knew the depth of sorrow that was devastating her all these months since Greg’s death. The plaguing idea that she had done something wrong in how she raised him…somehow failed him. The self-questioning…How had he changed from a happy kid to a reckless teen? And even more importantly…could she trust that he was now at peace with God? As for me, I loved God, but he seemed removed now more than ever and I wasn’t sure how that could change…
As Gloria talked of the Greg she knew, it was like she somehow brought him back into the room with us. Not as the tormented teen he had been in recent years. But as the young boy we’d almost forgotten existed…even begun to wonder if he ever had. She talked of all the values my parents had taught each of us kids…. faith, compassion, gentleness, caring for others… and how she had seen them all in Greg. Proof of a boy who had seemed lost… Words and pictures that warmed us like the whisper of God, letting Mom know…he had been a boy of character and values.
Time flew as we opened our hearts to each other, and before we knew it, the dark of evening was on us. I got up to turn on the soft lights of the tree. Gloria stood to leave, moving to hug Mom as Dusty eyed her carefully. She had to go, but it was one of those moments you felt you didn’t want to lose. A sense that it shouldn’t just end there. Gloria met our eyes and smiled. “I’d like to come back,” she said, “to stay in touch.”
“I’d like that, too,” Mom said, warmly.
We picked up the empty decoration boxes after Gloria left, clearing things out from under the tree to leave room for presents to come. A soft feeling hung in the air for the first time that season…Christmasey, like the scent of incense in church when every candle was aglow and all was quiet and peaceful. A benediction…
“I think we’ll start baking the oatmeal cookies after dinner tonight,” Mom said.
“And the Russian teacakes?” I asked, mouth watering. Those had always been my favorite.
“First things first,” Mom laughed. “Dad and your sister will be home soon, so we’d better get dinner started.”
Beginning that night, and carrying throughout the season, it was as if a candle had been lit…a little light of warmth to begin the melting of our sorrow…one flame at a time. Carols flowed from the stereo, and from us, as we sang of angels bending near the earth with their song of peace…And a kind of joy born fresh from sorrow transformed our “green” Christmas as much as any soft blanket of pure white snow. Out of that “snow” bloomed a Christmas rose of Mom’s constant love… for often, after my sister and I had gone to bed, we could hear the hum of the sewing machine long into the night as she worked to turn remnant scraps of material into our presents – lovely new nightgowns for Christmas Day…and hope for a new year…
Gloria became a part of our lives for several years, stopping by regularly, seeking out Mom as a second mother to run her thoughts by. Others were to come to us with their own pieces to the puzzle of his life that helped us to release what we didn’t, couldn’t know into the Lord’s hands…and trust to Heaven’s unfolding one day. Mom is there now, and I often wonder about the miracles she now knows.
Healing comes in stages, of course. But it was that one Christmas season – a light.post- that opened my heart to a deeper knowing of Emmanuel as God with us – and to abundant thankfulness for a Father whose special delivery song of love came through an “angel” so wondrously named… Gloria.
* Clipart provided by http://www.christmas-clipart.com/ and clipartpal.com
© Pam Depoyan
Linking this post to Faith Barista… a heart healing moment.