It was Christmas eve, impregnated with an importance that thankfully, didn’t visit annually. We all knew next Christmas one of us would not be there, so we held tight to the time gifted to us as we celebrated the birth of my Grandma’s Savior, who she would be meeting…soon. We gathered around the hospice bed draped with holiday quilts and hugged her gently trying not to disturb the tubes that helped her stay a little longer. We donned Santa hats, hummed joyful ditties, and took pictures in an attempt to capture our last Christmas together. Smells of the yuletide feast filled the house, in which my mother found us sanctuary when addiction stole my father away.
My grandmother was a woman filled with gentelness, seasoned with the perfect amount of feist, and that final Christmas Eve she let it show. Not towards any of us, but against that vile disease that kept her from enjoying the delicacies of Christmas. After being fed intravenously for weeks because her frail body couldn’t handle the richness of food, she leaned toward my mother and declared, “I would like a piece of fudge.”
My mom warned of the inevitable sickness that would follow, but Grandma was determined to savor a piece of the confection she enjoyed so many Christmases before. Her satisfaction in that bite of sweetness removed the cliché pandering of the saying “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.“
It proved to be her last meal—before cancer deprived us of her two weeks later. I was 14, and this was the first time I had watched someone’s life slowly wane due to illness. I am still amazed at the life that flowed through her failing body. She left us with memories that continue to preach, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Even in those last days she relished the small moments and saw the big picture. She took the time to bless each of us with her steadfast faith and priceless wisdom. She also accepted the beauty of legacy as her daughter, my mother, would pray for God to lead her through the sorrow with the knowledge that she was not alone.
The matriarch of our little family effused the ideals of a Titus 2 woman. She was self-controlled, kind, and taught those around her what was truly good. She had long been determined to enjoy each day, and in her illness, she held to the anchored hope of life in Christ.
No one dies early; God sees to that. He knows the first breath and He knows the last, but often people leave us before we are ready to let them go, and the holidays can be a reminder of their very present absence. Yet the season full of cheer can also carry us gently into bittersweet beauty, which leads us right back to the reasons those people are missed.
As this Christmas season bids me harken to its strains, I can also hear the whispers of invitations to comfort. It is a celebration swirling around my deepest hope and greatest love, Jesus, and there are smaller delights that dance into my senses when the air is crisp and carols are sung. There is peace in resting under the illumination of Christmas tree lights with a good book, delving into the ideals of advent with my family, and intentionally choosing hope, joy, and love. Then come the smells, oh, the smells that usher in memories of Christmas past, and encourage hunger for the gift of the present.
Chara Donahue is a freelance writer, high school teacher, and adjunct professor. She holds an MSEd, and is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths. She is the host of the podcast The Bible Never Said That and a regular contributor at iBelieve. Her words have appeared at Christianity Today, Crosswalk, (in)courage, and The Huffington Post. She longs to be a voice that says, “Hey we are in this together, and there is room for us all.”