Christmas Grief: A Letter to My Sister
I put a wreath on your grave again this year,
now for the sixth time,
a balsam wreath I hung over the edge of your stone,
the bright red velvet bow resting low on the base.
You were the heart of Christmas.
As little girls, we unwrapped the doll dresses
made for us by our mother and we played together all day,
welcoming family and showing off our new toys
until the years came when we were the real mothers
making gifts for our children.
I remember the year you made Santa hats for all of us
gathered at our grandparents’ house Christmas Eve
where my grandfather laughed and joked and loved every minute
of having his family together in his small house sharing food and gifts.
You put nicknames on our hats with glitter glue (I was “Bashful Barb”),
and we laughed till we cried sitting around wearing our hats
and feeling silly and warm and happy.
The next year you crocheted red Rudolph noses that fit on over our own
and we wore them the whole night,
ten of us gathered to celebrate Christmas.
The year before you died you knew it was your last Christmas.
You asked us to put up your tree for you
as you sat in your chair and watched.
You were tired and sad and maybe a little angry
that you could not do what you loved to do and would never do again.
I guess I thought grief would soften,
but I should have known that at Christmas
grief can return with its powerful grip,
a layer of sadness beneath the hope of the season,
beneath the peace and beauty of the season.
And I know there are so many others,
too many to even count,
who grieve this Christmas over what was lost,
who look for solace in the lights of the tree
or in the quiet stillness in the church
or in gratitude for those family members
we still gather with on Christmas Eve.
I put your star in the center of my tree this year
like I have now for six years,
the clear acrylic star with your picture in the center
made for me by a friend,
and when the light in the room is just right,
there is a glow from the star that far outshines
the lights on the tree.
And your light makes the season bearable
so that memory nudges its way to the forefront
and pushes the grief away just a little,
softening its edges,
leaving just enough room for the magic of Christmas
to fill my heart, if only for a moment.