This is one of my most special memories and comforts. For many of us, holidays bring us painful reminders of those who are no longer with us. Whether it is a fresh loss or a one that occurred years earlier, our grief can still overwhelm. This is how God brought me hope on that first Christmas without my father.
DAD’S CHRISTMAS ANGEL
“Give me a sign of your goodness … for you, LORD,
have helped me and comforted me.” –Psalm 86:17, NIV
In 2006, we faced our first Christmas without Dad. Melancholy settled on my heart, like the ice that weighed down the branch outside my window. Nobody spoke about him being gone, but we all felt it.
Growing up, a big part of Christmas was setting up and decorating the tree. My dad, with his twinkling eyes, and tree man wisdom, chose the best pine tree. Every. Single. Time. But he loved to keep us in suspense.
“C’mon, Dad,” we kids would holler. “It’s almost Christmas.”
He nodded, which meant he might surprise us with a tree that day, or perhaps the next. We waited in great anticipation. Christmas, like Halloween and Easter, always meant “Dad-time.” He held down three part-time jobs but always carved out time for us during the holidays.
Eventually, Dad would arrive with the tree in tow. There would be a rap on the front door and we skedaddled to open it, knowing it had to be him. There he stood, a cap on his head, a wide grin on his face. Delighted, we watched him kick the snow off the tree with the edge of his thick leather boot.
He always chose a broad, floor-to-ceiling, live tree with a strong pine scent that pervaded the house. He fiddled with the trunk in the stand until at last it stood upright.
Then Dad dragged the stepstool to the attic door and disappeared. A minute later, he handed down the hefty box filled with ornaments. Two of us carried the box to the living room and waited for Dad to untangle the cord of sturdy, old-fashioned red, green, and white lights.
Mom supervised our attack on the ornaments, mostly inexpensive metallic balls in basic colors popular in the 60s and 70s. We dug out assorted brass cutouts in the shape of angels or the little drummer boy, compliments of the local bank. After Dad strung the lights around the tree, we decorated it and hung the icicles to fill the gaps.
Of course, we squabbled. Invariably, some bulbs broke. Dad said, “If you kids can’t get along, I’m gonna’ take this tree right back down, and you won’t have one this year.”
We made faces at each other. Dad’s words, too, were part of the familiar tradition. We knew he would never follow through. It was all bluff.
One Christmas, our cat, Fluffy, joined in the fun. She knocked off shiny bulbs and booted them under the tree. Dad watched in amusement.
But when she clawed her way up the trunk, Mom looked worried. “That’s not funny. She’s going to get tangled in the lights.”
Dad shook his head and reached up to pull Fluffy out. “Amy, get this dumb cat outta’ here,” he instructed, “Someone’s gonna’ get electrocuted, and it better not be me.”
We kids thought that was hilarious, because Dad worked for the town Boro as an electrician. We were certain he knew enough not to get electrocuted.
Even with all the chaos and squabbling, we all came together for that single moment when my father placed the final decoration at the top of the tree. We all stood back in anticipation.
Dad plugged in the angel, and its light reflected on the top branches. Mom’s face lit up too because that tree topper cost her a week’s wage. She looked at it as an investment in her family and worth every dollar.
My father was such a part of our Christmas memories. To clear my head, I wandered outside. Now that he was no longer here, how would we ever fill the gap?
The air chilled. I kicked a path in the snow from the back door to the front porch, and admired the trees Dad grafted, pruned, twisted and tended to for the past quarter of a century. His bushes looked like works of art.
The way the snow glistened off the branches of our arborvitae bushes, they mirrored designer Christmas trees in a nursery. Most of our bushes were tiered, with several branches jutting out. A few were uniquely spiral-shaped.
I walked across the yard to the far side and gazed at the archway Dad lovingly coaxed into one piece by grafting two trees together. The snow that clung to the curves looked pristine and sparkled.
Snow had gathered at the top of the archway, piling up on the twisted branches, resembling an angel.
I sat on the front steps, drank in the beauty of our designer Christmas nursery and pondered the “snow angel.”
Perhaps it was a sign that while our life had taken a huge unexpected turn, we would be all right. We could see the legacy of Dad all around us. God had demonstrated his love with yet another physical reminder he would help us adjust. Maybe Dad was watching over us as a real angel in heaven
My grief subsided. It was replaced by hope. God would meet the needs of my family and help us move forward.
Lord, thank you for opening our eyes to your supernatural comfort in times of grief. We trust you will continue to meet our needs in the days ahead.