40: The Christmas Card

40: The Christmas Card

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Christmas Card

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

~Paul Boese

When I was nine years old, my uncle Frank was killed in an automobile accident. He was driving late at night on a backcountry road when a big ten-point buck ran out in front of him. Uncle Frank had no time to apply the brakes. His death was instantaneous, and to make things worse, Uncle Frank was killed early Christmas morning.

Uncle Frank was my mother’s only brother and she was totally inconsolable when the sheriff brought us the news. Mom and Uncle Frank were as close as any siblings could ever be—that is, until their big argument. I was too young to really know what the argument was about, but I knew they had a big disagreement and very angry words had been exchanged. Uncle Frank had stomped out of our house and we had not seen him since; he was killed two weeks later, before the two of them had the chance to reconcile.

There was too much pain in our family that year to celebrate Christmas very much. I hurt for myself, for the first loss I had experienced, but I also hurt for my mother because she seemed so tortured, so guilt-ridden. “Frank knew you loved him with all of your heart, honey,” my father consoled my mother.

“I will never be able to tell him again how very much I love him and how sorry I am for all of the terrible things I said to him,” my mother sobbed.

My uncle’s death changed our family forever. My mother cried for a long time after my uncle’s death, but she finally dried her tears and announced as we finished dinner one early March evening, “No one in this family will ever leave each other angry again. We will never go to bed while angry at each other. We will make things right immediately. Do I make myself clear?” We all nodded our heads in agreement and I think we were relieved that a part of Mom’s tough spirit was back.

Still, the ensuing Christmases were very difficult for us. The fact that Uncle Frank died on Christmas Day hung over our family like a fog that refused to dissipate, and we all knew Christmas was especially difficult for Mom. She tried to make Christmas enjoyable for us but she could not seem to get rid of her own personal guilt.

Then came that fateful Christmas Eve; I froze as I pulled the mail from the mailbox. Among several other Christmas cards was one from my Uncle Frank. How could this be? Uncle Frank had been dead for five years. The envelope was dull and faded, and did not display any postmarks, but sported a postage stamp that had been outdated for three years.

I thought my knees would buckle as I walked the Christmas card inside the house to my father. The look on my dad’s face confirmed my disbelief. “What’s this?” Dad said in a whisper. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Where has it been all this time?” I asked. “And how did it make its way to our mailbox without being postmarked?” The look of disbelief in Dad’s eyes told me that we would never get the answers to our questions.

When my mother saw the Christmas card from Uncle Frank, she almost fainted, but Dad caught her and was able to help her onto the sofa. Mom just held the card and cried for a long time before she got herself together, and with shaking hands, gently opened it. Tears welled up once again in Mom’s eyes as she silently read the last note Uncle Frank had ever written. Mom was unable to speak so my father took the card from her hand and read it to the rest of us:

“I’m so sorry, Maggie, for all the awful things I said to you. You were right and I was wrong. I was just too stubborn to admit it. I am coming to celebrate Christmas with you all. Phone lines are still down from the storm so I have not been able to reach you. I love you Maggie. Let’s make this the best Christmas ever. Love to you all, Frank.”

Uncle Frank was on his way to our home to celebrate Christmas with us and to renew his love and relationship with my mother. Knowing what had been in Uncle Frank’s heart healed my mother and our family. I saw an almost instant relaxation in my mother’s features; her face was once again soft and calm, her gait and stature displayed a life and energy that I had not seen in a very long time. My mother was finally at peace.

We never figured out exactly where that Christmas card had been for five years or how it finally made its way to our mailbox. In my heart I believe God had a hand in directing that long lost card to us so that my mother could finally have peace. If there was ever a Christmas miracle in our family, that Christmas card was it.

~LaVerne Otis

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