In the darkest moments, the power to bring light

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Christmas is my favorite holiday.

Nothing else even comes close.

I don’t think I’m exceptional in this. Most people, unless they have hearts the size of the Grinch’s before he had his Whoville epiphany, would agree that there is nothing more magical than the holiday that celebrates the birth of the Christ child.

You don’t even need to be Christian to appreciate it.

Ironically, the most memorable Christmas holidays in my 61 years have been experienced in the shadow of sadness, which made them all the more poignant and taught me lessons in humility and gratitude.

My first holiday encounter with the true meaning — and unexpected reality — of Christmas was the one in 1965, three weeks to the day after I’d celebrated my 4th birthday.

There I was, sitting with my mother and father, ripping into what I can only imagine were delightful presents, when my father announced that “Mommy and Daddy are taking you to Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s house.”

Not completely understanding the necessity to abandon my own personal party, I am told that there was definite pushback from the mouthy 4-year-old. But Mom had gone into labor with my baby brother, who would be born later that day.

That Christmas, memorable as it was for my mother who apparently had a visit from the angel Gabriel on the same exact date as Mary, was a letdown.

From new life to the shadow of departure: On Dec. 11, 1968, just three years later, one of those two beloved grandparents passed away.

My grandfather Mike had been a heavy smoker, and the only vice he had in what was an otherwise sainted life — unfiltered Chesterfields — took him away from us at the unbearably young age of 58.

I remember my mother telling me years later that as he was lying in the hospital bed, he reached out for grandmom Mamie’s hand and tried to sing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

He couldn’t keep that promise and passed away two weeks shy of her favorite holiday.

I was only 7 and don’t remember the funeral, but I know the toll it took on my mother, six months pregnant with her fourth child, who she would name Michael.

For many years afterward, mom would make sure to bake the pumpkin pie that my grandfather coveted, a special Christmas tradition because it was a visceral connection to the first man she had ever loved.

I’ve always believed that there is a strange symmetry in life, and life has not disappointed me.

My grandfather was born on a Nov. 7, and died on a Dec. 11. His wife, my beloved Mamie, was born on a Nov. 8 and died, in 1985, on Dec. 12.

These two people who were joined by love and duty lived in synchrony and died with the same exquisite unity.

I was studying for law school finals when the word came that my Mom Mom had suffered a massive heart attack as my mother — her firstborn — was driving her to the hospital for a check-up.

There were three generations of women in the waiting room, hoping for a miracle. It never came, and Mamie Fusco went home to be with her Mike.

I remember taking in the Christmas tree, and the festive decorations and wondering how the world could keep turning when the center had fallen out of it.

There was another Christmas, one that I spent thousands of miles away from my family, separated by an ocean and five time zones.

It was 1981, and I was spending my junior year abroad in Paris. My father had been diagnosed with cancer that May, and I balked at going away for so long.

But my father refused to have me miss this opportunity and promised that if I left as planned that September, they’d let me come home for the holidays.

I believed him. But as December approached, I got a message from my mother telling me that they’d decided to let me experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Without my knowledge, they’d contacted old friends of my father who lived in Canterbury, England, and asked them if I could stay with them over Christmas.

I was having none of it, complained, cried and tried to guilt them into having me home. But the die had been cast: It was Canterbury, not Havertown for me.

It was only later that I learned why the plans had changed.

My father had taken a turn for the worse, and the cancer had spread. None of the protocols and treatments were working anymore, and he was going to be in the hospital over Christmas.

My parents were trying to save me from having to deal with a bitter truth: This would be the last Christmas together. They wanted to give me a holiday unencumbered by grief.

I did not know it at the time, but they had given me the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Christmas is magical. But I think that we sense its true meaning, its most infinite glory, not in times of comfort, but in difficulty.

In the darkest moments, it has the power to bring light.

Copyright 2022 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected].

Christine Flowers is a Philadelphian who loves the Eagles but can leave the cheesesteaks. She writes about anything that will likely annoy the majority of people, and in her spare time practices immigration law (which is bound to annoy at least some people.)