The holiday season is filled with shopping, food, family, parties, and celebration. For those that have lost someone close to them, a dark place of grief lurks under all of these festivities as a reminder of the hole that sits where this missing person used to. While the holidays are a time to come together, the togetherness can also serve as a cold reminder of a loss suffered. This has been my experience, as five years ago this coming January, my mom passed away from cancer. As my best friend, my role model, my confidant, my world was shattered. I remember sitting at the hospital’s frozen windowsill, trying to comprehend that this really was my life; my life without her.
My mom was the most giving person I have ever met. She was selfless despite her suffering, her concern being only for the wellbeing of my siblings and myself. Though her passing has been difficult to deal with, especially during the holidays, she gave us a gift that I consider a miracle. Some may agree with me, some may call it a coincidence, but whatever you call it, let it be inspiration to believe in the spirit of the holiday season.
It was the day of my mom’s funeral. Something that many people hope to never have to think about until they themselves are grandparents. The endless line of people greeting my family was overwhelming but provided temporary relief from our reality. I stood next to my dad, thankful for his strength in keeping it together.
As he stood shaking hands with everyone, a woman approached us all, wearing a baggy brown coat with many pockets. I remember her curly brown hair and very pink cheeks, wondering how she could still be cold after standing in this infinitely long line of people coming to pay their respects. Without introducing herself, she handed over a small brown paper bag to my dad and explained that she loved getting to know my mom. She said she “took care of her,” and enjoyed their long talks late each night while my mom was in hospice care.
My dad was puzzled, but too tired to ask any questions. He thanked her, handed the bag to our neighbor for safekeeping and moved on. The woman smiled at me and said that I was just as my mom had described, then turned headed for the door.
Fast forward to February that year. It had been a few weeks since my mom’s passing, and was my youngest sister’s 11th birthday. My dad pulled out that same ragged brown paper bag and extracted a pink birthday card for her. My stomach sank as I saw my mom’s handwriting, a dagger of reminder me that she wasn’t here in person. Holding back tears, he explained upon opening the crumpled bag from the woman at the funeral he found birthday cards for each of us, written by my mom.
He went on to explain that there was much more to this story. After realizing what was in the bag, he wanted to thank the woman from the funeral for bringing the cards to us. Assuming from her description of caring for my mom, he thought she was a nurse from the hospice care center and called over to ask what her name was. After talking with the director of the facility, no one matching the mystery woman’s description came to mind. The director suggested that my dad go meet with the staff directly. Surely, he would recognize her in person.
He went to the center to a staff meeting in hopes of thanking this compassionate person who gave our family such an amazing gift. To my dad’s surprise, no such person worked there. It was as if this nurse disappeared into thin air. He explained the fact that haunted him: this woman claimed to have spoken with my mom, late into each evening of her time there. The staff was equally as puzzled, because they had checked in my mom’s room routinely each night and saw no such person. Moreover, my dad had spent every night at the facility, sleeping in my mom’s room, and had never awoken to any conversation that this mystery woman spoke of.
My birthday card was perfect. My mom wrote what I needed to hear, the most valuable of all gifts. You can choose to believe in the story or not, but I should mention that my card is dated. The date written on the card in my mom’s handwriting falls three days after she slipped into a coma. Again, perhaps this is a coincidence, a mistake made, whatever excuse can be thought of, but it made me believe in miracles.
For those of you missing someone this holiday, find peace and magic in their love that lives on. No one has said it better than Elizabeth Kubler-Ross when she wrote, “ The reality is you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same nor should you want to.”