Archive for December 24th, 2010

For those of us who celebrate it, it’s Christmas Eve. This is an evening celebrated in the cultures I have lived in as a time of family and of love, even for those who celebrate this season in a secular fashion. But Christmas Eve has always held a hint of mourning, too, because the Christmas I remember most clearly from my childhood was the one where Mr. Brehm died.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac, but I grew up calling it “The Circle.” I don’t remember whether we kids invented that, whether the neighborhood called it that, or whether my parents used it because cul-de-sac was a mouthful for a small child. There were only three houses on The Circle – the Linns, ours, and the Brehms. Both the Linns and the Brehms were old enough to be my grandparents and had been married for years. Their children were grown and lived elsewhere, but neither couple seemed to mind living next to a house with three noisy children who bicycled, skateboarded and scootered around The Circle and probably wandered across their property lines while playing in the woods. They waved and smiled when they saw us, and they performed the requisite amount of fussing over how much we’d grown and how old we were now whenever we knocked on their doors for Trick or Treat or the latest school fundraiser.

And then, one Christmas morning while we were opening our gifts, we saw the flashing lights of the ambulance on The Circle. As we hung wide-eyed over the back of the couch looking out the living room windows, we watched as the paramedics rushed inside and, after a few minutes, wheeled a covered gurney out much more slowly. Mr. Brehm had died in his sleep sometime Christmas Eve. My father broke the news to us a little later when he went to check on them and spoke to Mrs. Brehm.

Mrs. Brehm didn’t stay in her house long after that. Some family came and helped her pack up their things and she moved away. I wonder how Christmas felt after that for her. No matter how much loving family or how many caring friends she had around her, Christmas was always going to be the anniversary of her husband’s death, and that couldn’t have been easy.

I thought of Mrs. Brehm when I found this tombstone, for a child who was born on one holiday and died on another.
Neal William Walker

How did Easter and Christmas feel for them, I wonder, after little Neal died? I have to assume they were at least somewhat observant Christians, else they would have recorded the dates of his birth and death rather than the corresponding Christian holidays. How did they cope with times when a Christian is supposed to rejoice and be grateful when the very day was permanently entangled with personal grief?

“Step softly, a dream lies buried here.”

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