Before passing out Christmas presents to my children and grandchildren each year, I always ask which of them would like to start off the morning's traditional gift giving.
Each one of my four adult children took their turn this year. Aaron’s twin brother Sean and his wife Yvonne, older sisters Nikki and her husband Carlos, and Brenna went first. My son Aaron calmly waited until the last.
As my four grandchildren, who I have nicknamed Carlios, “C”, Ms. Haley and Ry Ry, were ripping open their presents, Aaron uncharacteristically, patiently, waited his turn.
Then, as the last of the scattered wrappings were being picked up, Aaron stepped forward.
He handed each family member, including his young nephews and niece, their own envelope. Then he gave us all instructions. Each one of us was to take turns and open our envelopes individually. We were then to read out loud the message he had personalized for each of us.
On the back of each card was a one large bold letter. As with each personalized note, each letter on the back of the card was different. After we read his note, we were to tape the card to the wall with the one large bold letter facing out. It was sort of a Christmas scrabble game. His gift to all of us would be revealed when we figured out what word his letters spelled.
It is very difficult for me to explain how beautiful his words were to each one of us. Aaron did not know it then but his words to each of us was one of my Christmas presents this year.
“Family is not the only thing, it is the only thing.”
“The greatest happiness is family happiness.”
Each card, with its own personalized message of love and family from Aaron.
Each one of us embraced his words like a warm quilt on a cold night. And although his mom, Susie, has been gone now for five years, I knew she and I had done our jobs as parents. I shared this proud parent moment with Susie’s spirit, who I knew was in the room with us all.
At the end of each message was, “P.S. Keep January 18, 19 and 20 open.” After each note was read, we taped our letter to the wall. The letter “C” was taped to the wall followed by an “H”, an “S” an “O”. And like a game of “Wheel of Fortune,” as each letter was taped to the wall, we all shouted out guesses. Someone finally guessed “beach house” — and that was Aaron’s gift to us all.
He would not tell us where the “beach house” Christmas gift is located, only that it was a place he had always wanted to stay. He also explained why.
Jan. 16 has a forever-deep meaning in my family. It is a day of cataclysmic and epic emotional proportion. Anniversaries tend to be happy occasions unless they involve the death of a loved one. The 16th is Nikki and Carlos’s wedding anniversary — and this year it marked their 20th. Jan. 16 is also the day my children lost their mom to cancer.
Many spiritual leaders and religious scholars agree — God’s timing is always perfect. It is impossible for God to be too late or too early. There is only God’s timing.
My faith in that belief is tested severely every Jan. 16. My heart and faith tells me there is a higher reason for this collision of ultimate joy and ultimate sadness. And although I pray to understand this, I just don’t see or feel it now. I hope someday I will, but for now, I fail each year to do my job to protect my children from this sadness and to better explain why there must also still be joy.
As Aaron explained the reason for his Christmas present to us all, that we all need to get away for the weekend, we knew what his mom would say. “Go and celebrate with family. Have a glass of wine — no, have a bottle of wine —for me.”
And I am certain my family will do exactly that this weekend at Aaron’s Christmas gift beach house.