If Only...

11:06:00 AM

“Do you remember the year Dad decided to barbeque the turkey and it went up in flames?”

We were sitting around the dinner table last night remembering past Christmas meals.

“Yeah. He left it for half an hour and the paint of the barbeque hood caught alight.”

“The turkey was a bit black but at least Dad was able to save it. Do you remember the year we had to throw the turkey in the bin? Something went wrong with the oven. What a smell there was before we discovered it!”

Everyone’s noses screwed up in remembrance of that disastrous attempt to cook our Christmas bird.

I don’t just remember the smell. I remember every detail of that Christmas. It was the Christmas after Thomas died. I really didn’t want to celebrate the birth of Jesus only six or so weeks after the death of our son. It was a very miserable time. The rest of the world seemed to be in a party mood and I was sunk in sorrow. All around us were signs of celebration but inside I was not celebrating. I was grieving.

We’d been invited to spend Christmas Eve with close friends. I really didn’t want to go. “Sarah, I just feel so miserable. I’ll only spoil everyone’s celebration. It would be better if I stayed at home by myself.”

“Sue, if you are going to be miserable, I want you to be miserable here with us and not by yourself.”

So we accepted the invitation.

We felt very low as we set off for our friends’ home. We’d tried to cook our Christmas turkey before we left home and all we had to show for our efforts was a strange smelling, pale carcass which we ended up offering to the garbage bin.

Although Andy and I were stuck in our pit of suffering, all our children were looking forward to seeing their friends. They were grieving but children are more easily distracted than adults. They were eager to dress up and act in the nativity play and sing carols before feasting on Christmas cake and mince pies. Perhaps they needed some relief from the heavy atmosphere at home.

Our little girls were dressed as angels. I thought they looked so beautiful in their long white robes and sparkling wings and haloes. I couldn’t keep my eyes from them. Surely no one else had such exquisite girls as me? I was a bereaved mother looking at her remaining children with such awe and love. My children seemed to be little miracles.

Alice came up to me. “Your girls are so gorgeous,” she said. She made such a big fuss of them and my heart grew so warm and full. All these years later, I still remember the kindness of this woman who took the time to make me feel so special and so blessed. (Without even once saying, “At least you have five other beautiful children.”) We were all in need of a little attention and Alice must have realised this.

We survived Christmas Eve much better than I’d anticipated. Even Christmas Day went more smoothly than I had thought possible. I was able to put a smile on my face and appear cheerful and excited for the children’s sake.

It was only after Mass that the tears appeared. Andy took me by the hand and led me to the front of the church. He lit a candle “for Thomas” and we knelt and thought about what could have been. We thought about how we would have been so happy that day if only Thomas had been in our arms, six weeks old. We prayed for the strength to get through the rest of the Christmas celebrations. That was as far ahead as we could think.

That sorrowful Christmas happened thirteen years ago. Time has passed and hearts have healed. Now we can go Christmas shopping without thinking about the presents we might have bought for Thomas. We can anticipate the birth of Jesus with real joy and peace. We can remember Thomas with love and thank God for giving us our son, even for such a fleeting moment. We no longer think, "If only..."

And we can take interest in the simple things of life again such as, “What shall we have for Christmas dinner?”

Well, we could try barbequing the turkey again. I think that would be safe as all the paint on the barbeque hood is long gone. It was thoroughly burnt off years ago. Or we could use the oven. It seems to be working perfectly. Or perhaps we’ll forget the turkey and have a traditional Australian meal of seafood. Then again, I remember that year we had prawns and the shells remained in the garbage bins in the heat, for days. My nose screws up as I remember…

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