The Ghosts of Christmas Past
Without even closing my eyes, I can see him. Coming up my walk on a bitterly cold night in late December - a tweed cap on his head, a huge grin on his face and an emerald green box in his hand. My Father. So excited to show me the new watch he’d bought my Mother for Christmas that he completely ignored the extravagant light display The Songwriter had just created on the giant fir tree by the front door. He returns to me every year. In his favourite red sweater he sits at my table once again. I see him sneaking fudge, shaking his presents, just as clear as day.
My father loved Christmas and, happily, he passed that love on to me, along with his optimistic spirit, his fear of snakes and his crooked nose. Always close by my side most days of the year, his spirit looms large during the festive season. I see him as he was when I was little, struggling to put up the tree I’d once again wheedled him into purchasing even though he knew full well it was too tall for our room. There he is, trying to stifle a yawn as I tear through Santa’s generous array of gifts when I’ve awakened him before dawn on Christmas morning. And I see him fighting to appear strong and business-as-usual the December he died, now five years past. Yes, all these ghosts of my father are present in my life, especially during this most evocative of seasons, and I have learned to welcome them all.
Understandably, it is an English tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmas. Perhaps it is the holiness of these days that causes the veil to occasionally blow back in the icy wind, revealing those from times past in a clearer, almost tangible, light. As we carefully unwrap treasured ornaments and baubles from years long ago, we hear their voices on the stair. We bring out a family recipe and glimpse them laughing in the corners, steaming mugs of mulled wine in their hands. Even though she’s been gone for years, we still see the Aunt who used to call out, “Christmas Gift”, when she came through the door with her arms full of presents. We see the taciturn Uncle who always sat through the festivities with nary a comment nor reaction save a slight, bemused smile. We remember the year the Christmas tree fell. The one when Mother dropped all the ornaments, shattering each and every trinket and geegaw to smithereens. We recall the festive Christmas lunch with a friend who never looked handsomer than he did on that day and we still marvel that we lost him only one short year later. But there he is once again, sitting at our fireside, the glow of the Christmas lights reflected in his laughing eyes.
One cannot live long without sorrow. And though the ghosts at my table this Christmas mostly bring good cheer and happy memory along with them, their presence is frequently tinged with that harsh reality of life. Forever now, there will be such visitations in Connecticut at Christmas. Tiny, sweet spirits who shall remain continually innocent and smiling but whose presence will for years bring tears and unbearable grief to those who loved them so. As I sit by my glowing tree tonight, surrounded by the spirits of my own past, my heart is heavy for those families destined for similar visitations through the rest of their days. They shall never escape them, nor, I suppose, would they wish to.
So much in our lives cannot be explained, no matter how hard we might try, and to even attempt to give reason or cause to the obscene tragedy of last Friday is to diminish it in a shameful way. It is beyond any human comprehension. Those who have said it is a punishment from God do not know the same God as I and should never, in my opinion, utter another word. My prayers are all I have to offer tonight and I offer them up in a fervent wish for comfort and peace to the brokenhearted in this season of ultimate hope.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
Love leaves a memory no one can steal”.
From a Headstone in Ireland