My mom passed away on Valentines Day 2006. I was driving down Frederica Street in my hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky when the call came to me that she was found that morning in her apartment – having passed away sometime during the night. Nothing can prepare you for losing a parent and I agree with those who say there is nothing like losing your mom. She had battled with cancer for the previous couple of years and, in many ways, her sudden death was a blessing as she avoided the long-term pain associated with that disease. But, I miss her still – now almost nine years later. And I especially miss her at Christmas.
My mom loved Christmas more than any other time of year. Growing up – our house at Christmas became a winter wonderland of everything from dancing Santa’s to decorations that looked more appropriate for Mardi-Gras. The gaudier the better seemed to be her motto for decorating and when all the decorations were in place – her cooking began. My mom came from a long tradition of really good cooks and Christmas was the time to really showcase those skills. Fudge, cookies, chocolate covered marshmallows, cakes, brownies and every year some newly found recipe would be on display for practically the whole month of December. No wonder my dad battled with weight and diabetes in his life – you could take one trip through the kitchen and gain ten pounds. Most years my mom would take part of her vacation during Christmas – just to have more time to cook, clean, and prepare for this annual production. What memories!
One of the hardest jobs I had after she passed away was going through her apartment and all the things she had accumulated through the years. As she got older, she became insistent on holding onto everything – bordering on being a hoarder. I came to understand that she, living alone, had lost so much in her life (including my brother and dad) those things became a way to off-set the losses. It took weeks for Lisa and I to finally discard, sell or store away all the things she left behind. But there was one box of items that I remember most. It was part of the Christmas presents she bought for us that we never received. Unfortunately – her poor health kept us from exchanging gifts that previous Christmas and we had decided to wait until she felt better – even if it meant after the first of the year. That never happened. So with great remorse I gathered up the items she had purchased for us and took them home. It would be weeks before I had the nerve to go through what were the last Christmas gifts my mom gave.
One day, about a month later, I managed to go through that box. It was not easy seeing these final gifts and knowing they were bought with her meager fixed income. Most of the items I hardly remember. But there was one that I will never forget. It was a little snowman candle that would turn out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life.
There is a book that a friend let me borrow called “When God Winks at You” and it has to do with those unexpected moments in our lives when something so bizarre and wonderful happens that you have to conclude God had something to do with it. The unexpected reunion of an old friend right after you had been thinking of them; the ten dollars found in your coat pocket when you are down to your last dime; the unexpected snowfall walking home from your church’s Christmas Eve service. These are moments that God winked at you as if to say – I’m here and everything is going to be alright. I did not know it at the time, but that little snowman candle would be used in one of those God-winked moments.
My mom always liked unique things. She would be one that could never pass up buying the singing mounted fish or a dancing elf. She loved that stuff. The candle snowman seemed almost out-of-place with the other gifts she had for us – it seemed boring and without much thought behind it. But, for some reason, rather than storing it in our Christmas boxes or throwing it out altogether, I placed it on our dining room table and spun around to turn off the light. As I did, I noticed a glow coming from the table. I quickly turned back around and saw that it was that snowman – glowing in the dark. But not only was it glowing – it was changing colors and turned from blue to red to green and orange and every hue of color in between. It was activated by touching it and I had no idea that it had that capability. I sat down for a moment and watched the colors change and thought of my mom and cried. It was as if she was saying – everything is okay.
God does wink at us from time to time in a way that communicates His love for us but also to say everything will be okay. I miss my mom and think of her often – especially this time of year. There is a snowman glowing somewhere at our home in Owensboro and God and my mom are winking.
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