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.