by Donna Wallace
Helen. Dear, sweet, elderly, Helen. Such a beloved lady, and friend to all who knew her.
Helen had belonged to the same church for almost all her adult life. She saw many members come and go, bond and feud, but she had always remained faithful to her beliefs, and she was highly respected, and cherished, among all the other parishioners.
Poor Helen. She wasn’t a young spry chicken anymore. She was well into her 70’s, and not quite as energetic and bubbly as when she first visited the church so many years ago.
Christmas 1998 was not destined to be a very kind year to Helen. She had suffered many losses. She lost her beloved husband six years before, but this year she seemed to have lost it all. After her dear husband passed away, she had moved in with her daughter, Becky, and her young grandaughter, Jennifer. They saved her from the loneliness she would surely have visited without their love. They grew closer every day, and each new day, life brought them more to be grateful and appreciative of. They knew they were blessed, and always remembered their blessings in prayer.
Jennifer was only two years old when Helen first came to live with them. Cute as a button, rambunctious, outgoing, and always joyful and singing. She made a house a home. Becky and Helen used to kid how it took the two of them to even half keep up with the whirlwind they nicknamed “Sunshine”. Jennifer was curious as a cat, and filled the day with endless questions – some deep, some comical, and each one needing answers! Her mother, and her grandma were careful never to carelessly brush her questions aside, or grow impatient. They answered each and every one, if not with wisdom, then at least with unbridled love. Jennifer grew into a brilliant young lady, and everyone predicted a bright and sunny future for the special little girl.
Life is funny. Predictions sometimes don’t come to pass. Future’s sometimes only last today.
One night, driving home from the store, Becky and Jennifer were hit, head on, by a drunk driver. It was a mistake. A horrid mistake. If it weren’t for a flat tire, they would have been home long before the intoxicated man drove down their street. Nobody can predict the future. Their shiny future ended that night. Their dreams, and plans and goals scattered among the broken glass, and the shredded steel. They were gone – forever. Once again, Helen was alone.
The sorrow and remorse that lived in Helen’s heart surely should have killed her, she thought. The agony of losing those closest to her, the loneliness of being all alone, in a house as quiet as a tomb, and the emptiness of having nothing more to live for were more than she could bear.
Every Sunday she continued to go faithfully to her church, pray to her God, and she was always polite, but oh so sad. She had changed – withered, deflated, crumbled. She seemed to hardly be able to put one foot in front of the other. Her joyous laughter was seldom heard, her excitement and zest for life was simply no longer a part of who she was. She was no longer inflated – just completely deflated – flat. Zombie-like instead of lifelike. Just waiting for her turn to go be with her loved ones.
Naturally, all the other parishioners saw the change. They felt her sadness, and loneliness. She had always been such a pillar of strength, a friend in need, someone who could be counted on when the rest of the world had checked out. She was always there, in every way, for everyone. But now, she wasn’t there at all, and nobody seemed to know how to comfort and help her.
But everyone saw. And everyone knew – from the oldest members, to the toddlers. They all saw the change, and the grief, and the pain.
Months passed. It was now December, and the holiday season was proving to be harder than Helen imagined it would be – and lonelier. She still went about living, kept up appearances, prayed, and was kind to everyone she met. Yet she felt like she was melting – disolving – dying, slowly inside. She wondered if she would see Christmas this year, or go to spend it with those that went before her – the ones she loved.
Then, the second Sunday of December, the Sunday School Teacher came to her with a special request. Would she be kind enough to help with trimming the tree that stood in the middle of the children’s classroom? Each child had handmade a special ornament, to place on the tree, and they needed assistance, and adult supervision. Helen tried to gracefully decline, but the teacher smiled, and said that the children had requested that she be the assistant this year. It was important to them for some reason, the teacher whispered.
The night of the special event, Helen was present. She was dressed as immaculate as always, and wore the best smile she could muster. The sight of the young children was bittersweet. The laughter and playfulness were refreshing, but they also held memories of her dear, grandaughter, Jennifer, who had passed away just four short months before. For the first time in months though, you could occassionally see her eyes shining, through a veil of tears. She decided she was happy that the children had thought to invite her, and thankful that she had decided to come join in the merriment. She felt more alive than she had since that dreadful day in August 1998.
Most of the ornaments had already been placed on the tree when an excited, almost giddy group of children came to her and took her by the hand. They led her to an ornate, red velvet chair that the teacher must have pushed into the center of the room, and they begged for her to sit down. Curious, and a little aprehensive, Helen obeyed, goodheartedly. You could see a tiny smile light up the corner of her mouth as she wondered what the little gremlins were up to.
A group, of five girls and four boys, sat in front of her splendid chair, smiling up at her with eyes moist with tears of happiness, and mouths trying not to prematurely babble the secret they were about to share with her. In the middle of the group sat a magnificent gold, gift-wrapped box addressed to: “Our Grandma, with Love.”
Eight year old Christine stood before Helen, tears overflowing, smiling from ear to ear, eyes dancing at the speed of light. Christine had always been special to Helen, for she had been Jennifer’s best friend ever since she could remember. They had spent much time together over the years, and they had grown close. She placed the box in Helen’s tiny lap and the whole group rose in unison, and began to sing just for an amazed and delighted Helen, who seemed to be crying and laughing and praying all at the same time! With pride in their eyes, and love in their voices, and their notes sometimes off-key, they musically told her the reason that she was there. It was easy, yet touching to see that the children had written the words, and the song just for her. A gift to be cherished. Wonderful memories to last forevermore.
Each of the nine small children either had no grandmother any longer, or had never even known theirs. This was a very special celebration and union – a new family meeting, and bonding, and growing and loving – and sharing a very special Christmas. One by one, they unpacked the special ornament they made, and proudly showed her their surprise. Each ornament was addressed, “To my special Grandma, with Love – on our First Christmas”. Every ornament was unique, special, splendid, and every one was a miracle beyond belief, to a heart so desperately in pain.
Once again, proving that predictions, don’t always come true…..Christmas 1998 wasn’t unkind to Helen whatsoever. No, Christmas 1998, was a new beginning, a brand new start, and nine new reasons to celebrate many more Christmas’s to come. The next two weeks Helen became a human dynamo! She baked, she decorated, she sang and filled her house with so much cheer until at last it warmed up again, and became a home. She invited her nine special grandkids over and celebrated a Christmas as only a very special, wonderful grandma knows how to do, filled to the brim with magical memories that only the nine most special grandchildren on earth could ever have provided.
You see, dear sweet Helen wasn’t the only one in need that Christmas. She wasn’t the only lonely soul who felt the emptiness and a void which needed filling. The children in their infinite wisdom saw her need, and in filling her need, they filled their own. There is no love as pure and unpretentious as a child’s love, no mind as wise and true as a childs mind can be when given the opportunity to flourish and grow. Every single child is a miracle you can mold and design. Parents have the power, the opportunity, and the responsibility to teach their children love and compassion, peace and kindness. The future is in the hand’s of our children, but our children are first placed in our loving arms, and under our tender guidance. Teach them love. Teach them the true meaning of Christmas. Not only one day in 365 days, but 365 days each and every year. Each new day providing an opportunity to celebrate, and rejoice, and give the gift of love. The gift of abundance that only grows, with no chance of diminishing in time.
Christmas is magical. You can see it, feel it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Christmas is a blessed event, that makes believers out of the staunchest cynics at times. It’s wishes being granted – dreams coming true. But most of all, it has to live, all year long, deep within your heart. Christmas isn’t for a day – it’s all year long. Christmas is a lifetime affair. Merry Christmas to all….today, tomorrow, and forevermore.
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