We tried then, didn’t we, to keep up the pretense of a normal Christmas. We drew names at Thanksgiving like always, adding a special drawing for the grandchildren. And from the hospital bed parked in her living room, Diane declared my 2-year-old daughter would need a beautiful dress for a Christmas present.
Of course that dress never did get bought or wrapped or unwrapped again on Christmas day. We didn’t, any of us, exchange gifts that Christmas morning. Instead, we ate a solemn breakfast and wished each other a merry holiday; then, we dressed and drove to the funeral home. Decorated in poinsettias and empty of anyone but family, the hush of the funeral home enveloped us in a private kind of way. We said prayers, we hugged, cried quiet tears. “Diane’s Christmas,” Debbie declared it, as if that could put a special glimmer on a day of saying good-bye too soon.
My son, it was his first Christmas. Someone bought him a Santa outfit. The hat was too small, left a red ring around his forehead. We ate, like people will, but I don’t think we tasted a thing. My period came in buckets. I bled all over the dining room chair. Blood like tears. How could I cry for a sister-in-law in front of people for whom she had been the real thing, a beloved and darling sister? They fought over her clothes, loud and self-righteous, a cover for the pain, who loved her more, who did she love more.
It has been 13 years since that heart-breaking Christmas. The family has borne other tragic losses. Her children are orphans now, having lost their father last February, but grown into beautiful, capable and loving young adults. And life goes on, as it will. We celebrate Christmas again every December, we smile, we laugh, we rip open those presents. And I think, down to a person, we all remember Diane with love and with a sober sort of acknowledgement that among the frivolity of the season, life, still and all, doesn’t last forever.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” – Rose Kennedy
Jessica Ciosek writes and lives in New York City. Her short story appeared in the “Mothers” issue of Minerva Rising.
Art: Doumanis at Deviantart.com