A Glorious Christmas
By Lynda Schultz
I held her hand, as if by doing so I could prevent her from slipping away. A little more than twenty-four hours before, I had been in my kitchen baking as though my own life depended on it. I was determined that this Christmas was going to be a good one. Less than three months had passed since my father's death. For the first time, there would be only three of us to sit down to Christmas dinner. Then came the phone call.
"Mom's had a massive heart attack. It's bad."
My brother had already made the journey north. On Friday night, Mom had complained of chest pains. She'd had a mild heart attack several years earlier, so Wayne took her into Emergency. By the time the medical personnel checked her over, there didn't seem to be anything wrong, but they decided, as a precaution, to keep her in overnight. Saturday afternoon, the big one everyone dreaded, struck.
I had planned to travel north with some friends. Now other arrangements had to be made, and just a few days before Christmas there weren't too many options. There were no flights available. The trains were booked solid. The only chance I had was to take an overnight bus. That was at least a nine hour ride; often longer if the weather was bad.
All the way home, I sat on the edge of the seat, willing the bus driver to go faster. I was terrified that I wouldn't get home in time. My dad had died alone, suddenly, in his hospital room the night before he was to be released. I couldn't bear the thought of not being there for my mother. I prayed that she would hold on.
The hospital was only a few blocks from the bus station. When I got there, my brother was waiting in the hall outside of ICU. We went in together. Mom was sitting up and she actually looked quite well.
"I'm sorry I've spoiled your Christmas," she said.
Later, we met with the doctor. There really wasn't anything more that could be done. It was only a question of time.
And later that afternoon, the time came. My brother and I sat holding her hand as she slipped away from us. Three days before Christmas, 1991, Erna Elizabeth was escorted into the living room of heaven.
We decided not to have the funeral before Christmas. That would allow any family that wanted to attend to make the journey from southern to northern Ontario. Several people from the church that I had grown up in invited us to spend Christmas with them. But neither of us could face that. Nor did we want our grief to cloud the Christmas celebrations of others.
But what could we do? I remembered what Mom had said when I entered her room that Sunday morning: "I'm sorry I've spoiled your Christmas." No way was I going to let that happen.
Mom had bought the turkey, the potatoes, the turnip, and all the other things that we traditionally enjoyed for Christmas dinner.
"I'm going to cook the turkey, and we are going to have Christmas the best we can, just as Mom would have wanted," I told my brother. I'm sure he thought I was crazy. Perhaps I was.
On the twenty-fifth of December, we sat down to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We raised our glasses in tribute to those absent from us. We opened the presents that Mom had so carefully chosen. And we mourned, each in our own way.
Later, with dishes washed and food put away, there was time to think. If Mom hadn't already been in ICU receiving care, chances were that I would not have gotten home in time to talk to her for the last time. I thanked God for that favor. I had planned to make this Christmas special for Mom. God had also planned to make this Christmas special for Mom. His plan for her was better than mine and, after all, wasn't that the point? She spent it dining with Dad ... and best of all, they shared the table with Jesus.
Into the shadow of grief, there came a little ray of sunshine, and with it, a voice that seemed to say: "I answered your prayer, but not the way you would have chosen. I know it hurts, but it will only be for a little while. There will be an eternity of Christmases for all of you together one day soon."
Lynda Schultz, a native of Northern Ontario, works with a FEBInternational, a Canadian Mission focusing on church planting and leadership training in Caracas, Venezuela. Thirty years in ministry has allowed her plenty of opportunity to try her hand at a number of different writing genres. Lynda is owned by two cats who provide endless ideas for the more lighthearted side of writing.