My Christmas Angel

By on December 1, 2011

By Barbara Briggs Ward –

Whenever someone learns my father passed away close to Christmas a few years back the reaction is usually the same. Most express their sympathy as to the timing of his passing. Most think since he died three days before Christmas and was buried the morning of Christmas Eve that from then on, Christmas would forever be a sad and trying holiday for me. I explain it’s quite the opposite. I tell them I am blessed with my own Christmas angel.

My father had been a funeral director. We lived above the funeral home where every day I was reminded of the thin line between life and death. I became fascinated by obituaries at a young age. I considered them glimpses into lives printed in a newspaper. I was curious as to what they’d done in their short time here on earth. Early on in this fascination, I realized none of us have control over the dates in our obituary but we certainly can write the script for the middle of it.

My father reminded me of this quite often. Because of his respect for life and living and his compassion for death and dying, I was blessed with a keen awareness of the precious gift we our given at birth and how at the snap of a finger, our light as we know it can be extinguished. Without realizing it, my father had, over the years, prepared me for the day that it would be his funeral I would be attending; his obituary in which that last date would be filled in.

On the morning of his funeral as snowflakes fell softly and people rushed about for their last minute gifts and as other families gathered to celebrate this holiday of holidays, my family gathered in the old French church to celebrate a life of compassion and joy; hope and goodwill. At the foot of the altar where my father had brought so many, it was he who was resting as others sang the psalms and expressed their love. It wasn’t the end of a life but the beginning of a spiritual journey for a man who’d helped so many and left a legacy for those of us who loved him, both to remember and live up to.

As we prepared to leave the church we joined in singing Silent Night. This was his favorite song of this glorious season. The trees in place for the evening’s Christmas Eve mass were donned in blue lights-his favorite colored Christmas lights. It wasn’t sad. It was beautiful. And as we walked behind him back down the aisle I heard him reminding me of how life is a Gift-a fitting reminder for that time of the year.

Loss is hard anytime of the year. But when it happens at Christmastime, the loss can forever change the meaning of this Season for those left behind. I’d been blessed over the years by a teacher of life and professor of living. I understood how thin that thin line is and how important it is to value a new day. Often as I was growing up I’d question my father about the ritual of funerals; not understanding their meaning or worth. Every time his answer was the same. “Funerals are for the living.”

His words rang true that Christmas Eve Day. Funerals are for loved ones to gather and a life to be celebrated. The tears shed nurture one’s soul.

As I prepare to celebrate this Christmas season I will string my father’s blue lights on our Christmas tree and take comfort in the realization that my own Christmas Angel will be watching over us. Sleep in Heavenly Peace, Dad.

Barbara Briggs Ward is the author of the award-winning Christmas story, “The Reindeer Keeper.” She is the creator of the Snarly Sally picture book series and has been published in McCall’s, Lades’ Home Journal, and Highlights for Children. In October, 2010 her short story, “In Anticipation of Doll Beds” was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, Christmas Magic. In March, 2012, her short story, “A Brown Boy of Our Own”, will be included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, Family Caregivers. For more information: http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com/.

About Barbara Briggs Ward

Barbara Briggs Ward has been published in McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Highlights for Children and is the author/illustrator of the Snarly Sally picture book series. In October, 2010 her short story, “In Anticipation of Doll Beds”, was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book-“Christmas Magic.” Barbara's heartwarming Christmas story for adults, "The Reindeer Keeper" “Honored as a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient in Adult Fiction” http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com.

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My Christmas Angel