Tuesday, December 8, 2015
It washed over me like a tsunami, the wave of
overwhelming grief. Totally unexpected. Taking me
totally unaware. And there I stood, my tears co-
mingling with the water of my morning shower, as I
was bathed in the mellow strains of Annie Murray's
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" wafting up from the CD
player in the living room.
I hadn't felt this way in many years... and yet the grief
was so raw, so present, belying the fact that the loss had
happened 37 years ago. It was Christmas Eve 1978 and
our family was gathered at the home of my parents for
our traditional Christmas Eve celebration, before going
to the Candlelight Service together. This had long been
a highlight of the holiday for all of us- my parents, my
sisters, and their families, and we were all eagerly awaiting
the arrival of my youngest sister, to complete the family circle.
The kids wanted to eat so the gifts under the tree could be distributed and opened and Mother was worrying over the food, wondering aloud just where Rennie was. Outside, it was snowing, giving us he first white Christmas in many years. In the midst of the cacophony, the phone rang and my dad answered. When he came into the family room, his face looked grim but hopeful. "There's been a car accident. Rennie has been taken to York Hospital ER and they want me to come." My husband, Bob, immediately offered to drive Mom and Dad to
the hospital, and I insisted on accompanying them, unsure of what we would
find upon arriving there. I was a nurse, after all, the family "authority" on all
things medical, as well as being the eldest of four sisters.
In the van, driving through the ever-accumulating snow, we were all trying
to put the best face on the matter. Rennie hadn't called herself because they
were working on her. They wanted us to come so there would be someone to
bring her home. But underneath it all, there was that small, niggling edge of
fear and trepidation, which we all were trying desperately to hide.
Upon arriving at the ER, we were met by a kind-faced, white-haired woman
who asked us to follow her. She led us to a family room, where we saw
Rennie's estranged husband and his mother, both white-faced and unable to
speak. And the kind woman- who turned out to be the County Coroner- told us
that Renate had been in an accident, her car had caught fire, and she had
I don't remember what my mom or dad said or did. I only recall hearing a
shriek of, "No, no, no!" and realizing that it was coming from me. My husband
tried to comfort me, but I was having none of it. I paced that small room and
raged and wept until I was spent. I demanded to see her, but the coroner
gently said that I would not want to remember Rennie that way. And then, I
asked for a phone so I could call home to inform my other two sisters and
the rest of the waiting family what had happened. As big sister, the eldest of
four, that was my job...and I had to do it. That was just the way it was, and
I could not leave that task to my devastated parents.
Christmas Eve has never been the same again, though with the passing
years has come a lessening of the acuity of grief. But today, hearing those
poignant words- "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."- I was
suddenly and fully transported to another time, another place, and the stab
of grief was as fresh as it had been on that long-ago Christmas Eve.
How easy it is to forget that grief has no time limit to it. How easy to fail
to understand how those memory triggers can put us back into the midst of
the perfect storm of emotions which hold us in their thrall, no matter how
much we would wish it to be otherwise. And yet...and yet...if weeping in the
shower on a sunny December morning in 2015 is the price to be paid for
loving and being loved, then I gladly pay it. And on this Christmas Eve, as
once again we light the candles and sing "Silent Night", tears will streak my
face as I remember Rennie.