80: Together at Christmas

80: Together at Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Together at Christmas

In true love the smallest distance is too great, and the greatest distance can be bridged.

~Hans Nouwens

The tree was trimmed and illuminated with multi-colored lights — some sparkled, some stayed steady, and some were burned out. Ornaments, both fancy and kid-friendly, clung to the branches above a pile of presents. My famous fudge had been made — both the traditional flavors, along with a couple of new concoctions. Yet, despite the decorations, treats, and presents; despite having grandparents join us at our home for the festivities; and despite all the music that filled the air, it wasn’t quite right — something was missing. More accurately, someone was missing.

My husband Greg had been deployed in Iraq for over five months, with four more months to serve before he could come home. Our children, Josh and Sydney, were four-and-a-half years old and three years old, respectively. This was the first year that they were both really into Christmas and Santa, and Greg was going to miss it! Even though I e-mailed daily and planned to take many pictures in order to keep Greg updated on the happenings at home, it just wouldn’t be the same as having him with us.

In addition to keeping Greg updated, I had to work to keep the concept of Daddy as a fixture in our kids’ minds. Josh and Sydney, I had hoped, were the perfect age to endure a deployment. They were old enough to remember Daddy, but too young to understand the concept of time. Because the time difference required Greg to call us late at night, Josh and Sydney rarely got to talk to him. Thus, we talked about and looked at pictures of him all the time. I wanted his presence to be a constant. Also, since I hadn’t been through a deployment before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea if all my efforts would deliver the result I had hoped for: that Josh and Sydney would feel just as connected to Greg when he returned as they did when he left.

Even though Greg couldn’t physically be with us during Christmas, I knew I had to do something so it felt like he was. I took two of the pictures Greg had sent me from Iraq and framed one for each of the kids to open on Christmas morning. Sydney got a picture of Greg dressed in camouflage, standing in front of a beautiful and lush oasis, while Josh got a similarly clad Greg standing in front of a military plane. They were great shots of Greg that showed the kids where Daddy was for his “Hero Job.”

As we began opening presents Christmas morning, we got about halfway through when I realized I had forgotten to have the kids open the pictures first. While I loved my gesture and was hopeful the kids would too, I was also realistic. Josh and Sydney were really into presents that year, and I knew that pictures of Daddy might be overshadowed by toys. I grabbed the pictures and gave them to the kids to open. I braced myself for a lukewarm reaction.

Josh opened his picture first, with all eyes on him. As the paper gave way and his daddy’s image appeared, his eyes widened and he whispered, “Daddy!” He quickly freed the picture from the wrapping to get a full look and pulled it in tight, closing his eyes while he hugged the frame. Then, as if to be sure he saw what he thought he saw, he released the picture from his hug, looked at his daddy again, and hugged it close once more. Sydney, upon opening her picture, followed suit.

And me? Well, it was the only time that Christmas I cried. Only I didn’t cry tears of sadness from having to spend our Christmas as a separated family. No. I cried tears of joy... and relief, because the kids were obviously just as connected to their daddy on Christmas as they were when he left. That was the greatest gift I could have received for Christmas, and the greatest gift I could give to Greg.

~Andrea B.

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