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Possumhaw: The dark night of Christmas


Shannon Bardwell



"O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight. " 


from "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" 




For days he asked, "Is it Christmas yet?" 


"No Daddy, still two more days." 


Our roles were reversed; now the daddy asked the child, "Is it Christmas yet?" 


Daddy closed his eyes. I sat at his bedside reading or singing or telling God it was OK to take Daddy, as if anything were ever up to me. And so it was on Christmas Eve of 1993 Daddy passed away peacefully, and it would forever change our Christmases. 


That Christmas we were knocked off balance. I told God I was wrong, we needed our daddy back, as if it were ever up to me. 


Well-wishers would say, "Isn't it wonderful that your daddy is spending Christmas with Jesus?" 


It was wonderful for Daddy and for Jesus, but it was not wonderful for me. It took every ounce of graciousness I could muster not to say so. I wanted to say, "No, no, it is not wonderful. We have presents under the tree for daddy, and we want him to spend Christmas with us!"  


"It's terrible that your daddy died at Christmas," they said.  


I wanted to scream, "Would July be better?" 


Grief can do terrible things to otherwise nice people. These days I find myself thinking the very same thoughts for others. Christmas is a hard time to lose someone you love. At the same time it's a wonderful time. Christmas, like no other time, is filled with joy, peace, hope and promise. 


Gone were the wrappings, the tinsel, the glitter, the hustle and bustle, the parties, the packages; everything in our Christmas came to a screeching halt except for a family that gathered together sharing memories over coffee and fruitcake, shedding tears mingled with laughter, friends bringing sustenance laced with hugs, nights spent staring at the moon and the stars on a silent, holy night. And so we changed, we adjusted. 


The Christmases that followed were often spent with my brother. We took long, cold walks in the woods, drove through neighborhoods looking at Christmas decorations or on Christmas afternoon looking for children playing with their new toys. We attended Christmas musicals and celebrated Christmas Eve communion. We remembered the Christ child in the quiet of the night, on a silent, holy night. 


And so it is 20 years later we, my brother and I, are again together to celebrate another passing. My sister-in-law, his wife of over 50 years, will be spending Christmas with Jesus. It seems appropriate, for her whole life was filled with joy, peace, hope and with promise. And we will gather together and share memories over coffee and fruitcake and shed tears mingled with laughter. Friends will bring sustenance laced with hugs, and we will spend nights staring at the moon and the stars on a silent, holy night, and we will change and we will adjust.  


Oh come, thou Dayspring, come ... and death's dark shadows put to flight.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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