Holiday memories: Pain of loss eased by season’s spirit of love and light
On the evening of Saturday, Dec. 14, 2002, my 4-year-old son, AJ, and I had just finished assembling our family Christmas tree and were about to put the decorations on when the phone rang. It was one of my sisters in New Jersey.
“Intensive care … coma … brain tumor … Amy might die … please pray ….”
Each shocking bit of information pounded my heart. Amy was our 31-year-old niece in Washington, D.C. Over the previous months, she had experienced serious migraine headaches, but when she went to her HMO’s emergency room, rather than run any diagnostics, they simply gave her pain pills and sent her home. So she went to a neurologist, but then had to wait to get a referral in order to have an MRI.
While waiting, she had another migraine, this time passing out at home. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where they discovered a tumor in her brain. It was blocking the flow of spinal fluid, and the buildup of pressure caused massive brain damage.
The tragic news sucked out all of my holiday spirit, but as I lay on the sofa sobbing, I realized I would have to somehow carry on, because it was still Christmastime for AJ. His expectation that we would watch holiday TV shows, take a drive through the best Christmas lights neighborhood, and be visited by Santa remained unshaken. A trip back East was out of the question. And yet, I couldn’t really be present for AJ, either.
Later that night, my heart ached even more with guilt when I noticed that one little corner of our Christmas tree, just high enough for a child to reach, was lovingly decorated with the few ornaments we had unwrapped before the phone call.
Three days would pass before I had enough energy to finish decorating the tree. I moved through each day in a fog, praying that I could get some Christmas spirit back for AJ’s sake and that Amy would pull through. Whenever I heard Faith Hill’s song “Where Are You Christmas?” on the radio, I broke down and cried.
Amy never regained consciousness and died by the end of that week.
Santa still made it to our home for AJ, but I remained void of any happiness. Late on the night of Amy’s funeral, just when I was sure that a Grinch named death had stolen Christmas from me, a ray of light shone through to my heart. As AJ slept, I sat quietly watching the Christmas lights blink on our tree, and for the first time since that horrible phone call two long weeks ago, I saw a beautiful sparkle in the garland and ornaments. For a moment, my heart was light again, feeling the Christmas spirit.
And that’s when I realized that Christmas isn’t the worst time of year to lose a loved one. It’s actually the best time, because at no other time is there so much light and love available to heal your soul.
• Theresa Danna lives in Gardnerville.