What would December be without a few tears?
It never fails, we turn over the calendar page to December, and the tears just seem to flow–this year especially so. Late fall and winter, and December especially, is a tough time to get through. All four of my siblings who were handicapped passed away at this time of year. My sister Rebekah died in November (1995), Jenny in January (1998), and my two brothers both passed away the week of Christmas (2001 and 2002.) The Christmas season in particular is a very bittersweet time for me. I’ve always loved this holiday the most: the decorations, the music, giving gifts, making treats. But there are just so many memories, both sweet and yet difficult that come welling up inside me now.
Today, December 21, marks 10 years since my brother Ryan passed away. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I remember that weekend so clearly. My parents said that when they turned over the calendar that year and began preparing for Christmas, it was as though Ryan remembered the previous Christmas and all that had transpired with Sean’s passing and knew that it would soon be his time as well. He hung on through all the busyness that is the life of a choral conductor’s family in December, but finally on the Saturday before Christmas, DH and I received the phone call that said, “Come.” So we came, with A. My dad had to take his chamber choir, the Trouveres, to one last performance that night, and as he said goodbye to Ryan, I think we all knew it was a final goodbye.
Around seven o’clock that evening, we did indeed watch as Ryan quietly slipped from this life into the next. I will be forever grateful that my parents chose to keep both Ryan and Sean at home in the end, rather than in a hospital. It was such a privilege to be together in the home where we were all so loved and feel his sweet spirit as he was released from the trials of mortality.
I was so excited to get a baby brother after two sisters, and then another brother after that. And though Ryan was not the youngest, he was the last to pass away. We went through a lot together as we said goodbye to three other siblings, until we were the only two left. We spent a lot of time together in the last year of his life as I would watch him on Tuesday nights while my parents had a choral rehearsal. I think A enjoyed the time too, although I’m not sure Ryan did. A was a much more energetic playmate than Ryan was used to, but I am grateful that at least one of my children got to know Ryan, if only for a short time.
Ryan’s death was particularly hard as it was the last. As each of the others passed on, there were always others still at home waiting on us to care for them. With Ryan’s death, that ended. In some ways, a terrible burden had finally been lifted, and yet there was an incredible emptiness. I felt so lonely there for a while. My father had to remind me that I am never alone. I have an older brother, our Savior, who is always there for me and understands perfectly feelings of loss and heartache. Heartache which this year includes the recent loss of another long-awaited pregnancy.
Going back through my parents’ funeral talks, I found this that my mother shared at Sean’s funeral, from Sheri Dew:
“Is it possible to be happy when life is hard? Can we feel peace amid uncertainty, or hope in the midst of cynicism? Yes. The answer is an unqualified yes because of Jesus Christ, whose Atonement and Light ensure that we need not bear the burdens or the darkness of mortality alone. There is nothing this confused world needs more, nothing that inspires a greater sense of well-being, nothing that has greater power to strengthen families than the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We’ve never really done Santa Claus at our house. With each passing year, I become more sure that it is because we don’t need Santa. Santa just brings more stuff. We need Jesus Christ. We need the peace, the joy, and the hope that only He can bring. I’m still searching for joy at this particular time, but I know it will come, as surely as I know we will be reunited as a family someday. And that is something to celebrate this Christmas season.