A Christmas Memory
By Brad S. Winterton
Not all Christmas memories are bright and cheery, but from the tragic and sad can come examples of people caring for each other and gentle reminders of future glorious family reunions.
Christmas Season, 1975, found my parents in Massachusetts where one of my brothers was in the Boston Children's Medical Center. Born with cystic fibrosis, at age 10 he had already more than doubled his original life expectancy. But hardening of his liver was causing life-threatening circulatory problems and required a special operation. On December 23rd, after a seemingly successful surgery, he quietly slipped into a coma. Four days later, after repeated tests showed no brain activity, life support systems were turned off and my parents accompanied his small body home to Utah. Among family members, there was general agreement that he had actually died on Christmas Day.
When my brother's condition had worsened, word had spread quickly among our Utah community of his condition in the Boston hospital. Calls came, offers of help, tears of grief and concern, meals prepared. During all of this, my two other brothers and I had stayed with relatives. Due to everything else going on, there wasn't much of a Christmas celebration. I don't remember any gifts exchanged, although I'm sure there were some. One thing I do remember--we didn't have a Christmas tree.
Among the many comments of concern, sympathy, and condolence from friends and family members was the oft repeated thought, "What a terrible time of year to experience such a tragedy!" I remember thinking the same thing, although it probably had more to do with my early-teen selfishness than concern for my parents' feelings. But somehow, the fact that we didn't have a tree made it more bearable because it didn't really seem like Christmas. There wasn't even snow in the ground; instead it had been raining.
A few evenings after Christmas, back at home (parents had returned from Boston and were out making funeral arrangements) the doorbell rang.
There, in the driveway in the back of a borrowed pick-up truck, was a Christmas tree, completely decorated.
In a matter of minutes it was in our front room, lights plugged in, and filling the house with the smell of pine and the feeling of the season we had almost missed. At first I felt anger at this reminder of what we were supposed to be celebrating, but when my parents came home and I saw the tears in my father's eyes as he looked at the tree, my anger was gone and I recognized the love with which the gift had been given. Most of all, the tree made us remember the birth of the Son of God and His promises to those who mourn.
What a welcome reminder as we mourned the loss of our brother and son!
Two other things stand out in my mind about that Christmas season. First, a wonderful Bishop quietly gave my Father a large sum of money to help with funeral costs. Months later, Dad tried to repay the sum but the Bishop wouldn't accept it. Second, at the funeral, a friend and ward member taught the plan of salvation with power and authority. Later, two non-member friends of the family were baptized, largely because of the restored doctrines taught and the Spirit felt in that funeral service.
In the years since, although I have often thought of that Christmas tree sitting in the back of that truck in our driveway, I have never written of the whole experience. As I write it now, tears fill my eyes and I've had to stop several times. Looking back, I realize that experience cemented firmly in my soul, at a young age, a firm understanding and testimony of the eternal plan of our Father for His children. That testimony has been the staff on which I have leaned through all the years and subsequent losses since. Each time I think of my brother, that Christmas tree, the Christmas season, Easter, or other friends and family members who have passed from this life to the next, I feel deep gratitude for the understanding and keen anticipation of the family reunion that awaits me somewhere in the future.