Silent Night

What is it about Christmas Eve that cracks my heart open, and allows the candlelight to shine all the way down to the narrowest crevaces of hope and deepest pits of grief? Is it the old hymn sung acapella into the hushed air by hundreds of expectant worshippers, with its soft echoes of “mother and child” washing over my tender heart? Is it the pause, the space we create to listen, and to feel?

Was it the song that played over the radio into our warm car full of family not once, but twice, asking me, “did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?” Was it the images of Mary, heavy with her ready-to-be-born child, realizing that she was about to deliver her precious son in a dark and unseen place and bring him into a world that was largely too busy and bustling to even notice that he was coming, that he had come? Was it hearing that scrap of scripture that always seemed oddly tacked onto the end of the narrative of Jesus’s birth, “Mary treasured up all of these things, and pondered them in her heart,” and realizing how huge, how neverending, is the pondering of a mother’s heart? For I have stored up many memories of my own child in my burgeoning heart, and ponder them continually. Did Mary know that she would watch her son die as well? Was she shaking too, holding him moments after his birth, knowing that his living breathing presence in her arms was an absolute miracle? Did she wonder if he could possibly be real, and how long he would stay? I am certain that she was so in awe of the beautiful babe in her arms that she didn’t notice or care just how frantic and busy the world was around her. For a moment, there was stillness, and in that stillness was exhaustion, shock, contentment and love.

At 5 am I finished my Santa-ing, turned down the lights, lit a candle and lay on the couch, hearing only Gavin’s windchimes calling sweetly from beyond my front door, clear and true even in the dark and cold night, and the ponderings of my heart as they rolled around the inside of my head. In those moments, hope and grief sat side by side, reached across the divide in my shattered heart, knitted their fingers together in the glow of candlelight. I bid the flames find their way into the deepest corners of my heart. “Burn away this pain,” I prayed. “Because I know that I will not wake and find that my Christmas wish has come true. He will not be here. He will still be dead and gone, and I will still ache. There will still be a huge black hole right in the center of the place where my joy should be, right in the center of my soul.” And as I prayed this, I knew that his love was there, hovering above the candlelight, as clear and sweet and true as the notes ringing in the air while the world slept. But there was no warm body to hold, no face to watch light up, no sweet third son to watch playing with his brothers on Christmas morning.

Instead, the first face I saw when my eyes opened this morning was Rowan’s. Braden had slipped out of bed hours earlier, kissed me on the cheek and crept downstairs to recline on the couch in the very spot I’d abandoned at 0600 when Rowan woke up crying for momma.

Now in his bed, I watched Rowan open his eyes and speak what his mind was processing: “It’s Christmas, momma. There are presents downstairs!” Down we went, and downstairs we found Braden on the couch with a rainbow over his head, presents covered in rainbows, rainbows dancing through the elf village that Rowan and I had created near Gavin’s tree. The message was clear: “I’m here, Mom, playing with my brothers this Christmas morning. I’m here to lend my joy and sweetness to the celebration.”

Later I took a nap, and woke to find a rainbow on the blanket that covered me. Half asleep, I wondered if i was imaging it, until Rowan bounced into the room and said, “Momma, there’s a rainbow on your nose!” Smack in the middle of my face. Really? I can’t ignore that wink from heaven. Our bedroom is not a place where rainbows regularly appear, this was a special Christmas visit.

Despite these sweetnesses, my heart is still heavy. I am still angry and bitter and see no resolution to this pain of not having one of my children here and alive with me, where I can hold and care for him. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to have woken up this morning with all of my children alive and physically under one roof. To go to where my youngest is sleeping and watch him breathe. To watch him open his eyes and hear him cry for me, to feel the weight of him as I lift him and to smell his warmth as I tuck him onto my chest. The envy I feel for anyone that was able to wake to find a living babe in their home this morning…I am not proud of that envy. I was once that momma. I did not realize what it felt like to long for what I had, the simple ability to see and touch all of my children, until one of them was snatched from me. Now it’s as if I’ve crossed over into a special kind of hell that won’t end until this life does and I can see and hold my boy again. The agony of separation is not something that I think I can accurately describe. I appreciate the rainbows, I really do, they are sweet and I am grateful that they come, but dammit it’s not the same as having him here. He is with me always but he is not here, and there is no whimsical euphemistic way of spinning that enough to change the reality of his absence in our lives or of the stark empty place smack in the center of my heart where my joy should be.

Time marches on. Not all of me goes with it, and most of me doesn’t want to. I am caring for my living children. I am investing in my marriage. I am going through the motions to do what I have to do to keep life moving forward for my family. But despite constantly running into painful reminders of the reality that other babies are here and mine is not, a very large part of me is still searching for some way to make this not be true. I don’t know the answer to this problem. So like it did in those moments of stillness late Christmas Eve, my heart constantly waits, and searches, and dares to hope.

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