The tree is the last thing I take down after the holidays. It is the hardest thing to let go of. The smell of pine, the colored lights, and the ornamentsÖitís the most precious of all Christmas decorations. I glanced over at it as I packed boxes with snowmen, stockings, and garland. The cards came down, and I folded the tape over the back of them. Christmas carols fill the room for the last timeÖuntil the next Christmas. My heart swelled as I thought about the holiday get together at my Aunt and Uncleís country home. My cousin Al, who lived in Maine, was there, making the night all the more special.
Spring came, new life from our Creator. Easter and its somber promise that makes my soul shout out for joy. Summer followed, beginning with High School graduation, and hopes and dreams for a future of happiness and success.
Then everything changed with the devastating news that Al, just twenty-six years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. Less than a month before, as I rode with him in his old van, he talked about my parents, and how much he loved them both. He told me how he visited my mom once, after she left my dad, and how he and my dad wrote each other. His beaming smileóas he talked of how much he loved my dad and how heíd love to be able to sing like himómade his round face even rounder. I hadnít known that; about him and my parents. He told me that while we cannot control some of the things that happen to us, we could control the decisions we make about them.
Two weeks later, the once vibrant, adventurous, life-loving young man left this world. He was supposed to get married the month he died. He asked my dad sing at his wedding. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. We couldnít bring him back. Nothing would ever be the same again. How could we ever have another of our big family Christmas get-togethers? Without Al to play his guitar with my dad, aunts, uncles and cousins? How would we be able to sing, rejoicing in the season and togetherness without his soft but strong voice to lead us?
His passing, along with long suppressed pain of my parents divorcing, and my momís desertion started me on the downward spiral of depression. I stopped listening to music I always loved. It reminded me of him. And of all that I couldnít and didnít have.
Fall came. I always loved seeing the leaves change color, and drift to the ground in their last dance of life. The trails I love to walk became a vibrant mosaic of wine-reds, pumpkin-oranges, and squash-yellows. However, the sadness that pressed down on me would not let up.
On Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for my family.
A couple weeks before Christmas, the boxes came out. The tree filled the house with the aroma of evergreen. I pulled the snow globes, snowmen, Santaís, angels and stockings from the box and placed them around the house. The only thing left in the box was the stack of old Christmas cards. I looked through them, each bringing back a precious memory of the sender, mostly family, spread out around the country.
One had an adorable, playful-looking cherub on the front. Alís signature graced the inside page; along with the message that he couldnít wait to see us over the holidays. He reminded my dad to bring his guitar. I ran my finger across his words. The pain of his loss threatened to crush me.
Then I felt a blanket of love and peace wrap around me. Outer-worldly peace. Without hearing actual words, I knew Al was okay. And I was going to be okay. I didnít know if the message was from Al, my guardian angel or God.
My little piece of Al was the first card I hung up that year, and every year after that, until I married and moved out.
I now know that the blanket of love was from God. Though Iíve never experienced it to that intensity again, Iíll never forget that when I needed Him, God let me know He was there, and He cared. In the midst of great sorrow and loss, He planted the small seed of faith and hope. Over the years, that tiny seed has taken root and blossomed. And for that, I am thankful.
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