In my life, I’ve had many wonderful Christmases. I’ve also had a whole lotta really rotten Christmases. There was only one that was both.
It was Christmas 1975. Sixteen weeks earlier, on 8 September, my brothers Rob (22) and Steve (19) had died side by side in a head-on car collision. Individually and collectively, the Poston family experienced life-changing, soul-searing grief.
We’ve all had that “First Christmas Without.” Kim Dakin Brody, I’m thinking of you right now, sending you my heartfelt prayers and love and hoping they somehow help ease even just a touch of your pain.
My brothers and sisters, our spouses, and myself feared what Christmas without Robbie and Stevie would be like for my parents. Their pain was so raw, just being with them felt like stepping into a raging fire. The natural tendency is to recoil from pain that singes and wounds, but, even so, we gathered together at their home in Columbus. We would do what we could to ease their pain on this, The Worst Christmas.
There was a moment in time when my father and I found ourselves alone. I looked into his eyes and saw nothing but suffering. I took his hands in mine and waited. Finally, he spoke. He talked of hopelessness and horror and powerlessness and regret. He would have done anything–given his own life, anything—to protect them. And what was the use of anything after all. He didn’t want to go to Christmas Mass with all of us. He couldn’t bear the thought of being in a crowd of happy families.
And then, for once in my life, exactly when it mattered most, I found the right thing to say.
I told him, “But Dad, if you think about it, Christmas should make you feel better. Precisely because Jesus was born on this day, we know that we will see Robbie and Stevie again.”
He pursed his lips and thought.
I remember asking him if, knowing the end that was to come, he would not have wanted them to be born at all. He shook his head no. That’s when I suggested he look at Christmas from God the Father’s point of view.
My father went to Mass with all of us. He stood with dignity as the head of the family while two pews of Postons celebrated the marvelous story of the baby who changed the world.
The baby who changed the Worst Christmas into–well, not quite the best Christmas. Maybe a better description is the most memorable Christmas. Our wounded family was able to celebrate being together even as we mourned and honored the two who were gone.