Unopened Presents

I thought of them again this Christmas, these two children who would be near fifty now.

More than forty years ago their family of five was returning home from Christmas shopping when they were struck by a drunk driver.  Of the five, only their mother and older sister survived, with great physical and emotional trauma. After years of recovery, healing, moving, building a new life states away, their broken family met ours.  My first child was born the same month that my father remarried, and I gained a step-mother and adult step-sister along with a daughter.  Strong women, all.

My daughter was followed the next year by our son, the first two grandchildren on my side of the family.  My step-mom’s story unfolded slowly as she talked about raising her three children as mine went through similar ages and stages.

Then she brought out the unopened presents.

We were spending our vacation visiting them, my children 4 and 5 years old playing with the few toys they had brought on the 800 mile trip.  The first box was a doll, the second a car.  Toys purchased for the son and daughter she had lost on that last shopping trip before a Christmas they never celebrated.  Boxes kept unopened all those years

Six more grandchildren followed my two, and all enjoyed the same toys when visiting Grandma and Grandpa.  A loving tribute to the children who never got to open them.

I still can’t tell the story of her opening those boxes without crying.  The lives lost at Sandy Hook so near the holidays reawakened this memory. But this is not a story of a personal loss to me, and I hesitated to write it.  Two things happened this week to change my mind.

First, the news has been full of the …celebration? as the children returned to school in Sandy Hook.  They are declaring a return to normalcy, only a few weeks after tragedy.  Tying a bow on the neatly wrapped package of news covering this awful event. That it is a necessary step, I agree.  But I don’t believe we return to normal after any tragedy.  We may create a new normal or come to accept that change is normal life.  And grieving is a long, long process.  We call such events life changing for a reason.

The second event was learning my nephew lost a friend in a car accident the morning of New Year’s eve.  They had a long distance relationship, and the news was delayed in reaching him.  He was wrapping a present to mail to her when he received the news.

These unopened presents, lives ended too soon.  Grief lives on for some throughout their lives.  We can honor their loss by remembering with them, allowing the grief and not putting such importance on returning to normal.

Most of us have never been there, anyway.


7 thoughts on “Unopened Presents

  1. Thankyou for your lovely comments on my blog. I have enjoyed reading some of your posts. You have a gift with words. I too know a little of what you speak of here- we lost one of our children 6 years ago although not in such violent circumstances. I resonate with the unopen presents. Each year (nearly) my son (who was her twin) and I have gone and chosen a present we thought she might like if she was still here with us and given it to someone to pass onto a child who’d benefit from it. Your ending sentiments are bang on- those who’ve known others’ tragedy often understand very well. I wish more people could relate like you do. Thanks x

    • So, so sorry to hear of your loss. And what a lovely way to honor that loss with her twin. (I love the “nearly every year”! That kind of honesty about family life makes me comfortably at home in your blog. I have so many “nearly always” good intentions myself…) Even with faith in Christ, such losses can seem overwhelming. How anyone faces them without Him is beyond my imagination.
      Your blog shines with family fun and faith. Thank you for taking time to visit my little blog and for sharing your story with me.

  2. I clicked on liked, but it doesn’t really cover it. So sad, so honest. And this resonated with me because a friend died very early on Christmas morning, and we have wondered about the presents but haven’t liked to ask: those he was giving, those he would have received…..
    Your story gives a little insight into how it might have been.

    • Loss is hard anytime, but the contrast of sadness at a time associated with joy seems even harder, doesn’t it? I understand not knowing what to ask about your friend, I always struggle with whether I’m saying the “right” thing or whether I should stay silent to spare someone’s feelings after a loss. (And by silence risk them feeling no one remembers or cares.) I am trying to learn not to be so uncomfortable with sadness and in such a rush to cheer someone up, but that is hard for me. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Pingback: In life…. there is death…. | patwoodblogging

  4. What a beautiful post. I lost my daughter on teh 18th of January this year. When we put up the Christmas tree last year I KNEW that it would be her last Christmas. It was a wonderful family day, and I will never celebrate Christmas at home again…Your stepmom sounds like a special lady.

    • I’m glad you were able to make such good family memories of that Christmas. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been knowing it would be your last together. Yes, my step-mom is a great person and we’ve been so fortunate to know her as family. Thanks for taking time to comment. God bless you, even through the grieving.

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