Just last week, I caught the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Like many people, this was one of my “must watch” holiday favorites. Growing up, I have fond memories of the four kids gathered in the living room ready to watch them all: The Grinch, Rudolph, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and of course, Kass’s favorite: Emmit Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. We never missed them!
I smiled as I saw the final minutes of this year’s broadcast. Jamie and I had just come back from dinner and we caught the very end. And, just in time…there it was. The final scene. Always my favorite, but this year, it had a new and special meaning for me.
As kids growing up, I think we all understood the basic lesson from the Grinch: Christmas is not about the presents, but rather, it’s about the love and joy of family (and in our family: the celebration of Christ’s birth). Even as kids, this lesson was reinforced by our parents who taught us that Christmas is about giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves. I recall a special memory of a time not too long ago when my parents invited our old neighbor from down the road to our house for Christmas dinner. We realized at the time that this was likely his only hot meal that day. He had no family and was all alone on Christmas. And that night, he ate that food as if he had not eaten in awhile. We are quite sure that he hadn’t. He has since passed away, but I think he always respected my parents for inviting him into that special moment. I know that I do and I will never forget the lessons we all learned that night.
Back to The Grinch. When I saw that final scene….just like 1,000 other moments since Kass left us, I could not help but think about Kass. As the Grinch was waiting to hear the crying when all of the Who’s in Whoville woke up without Christmas, “He did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started out low then it started to grow. But, the sound wasn’t sad. Why this sound sounded merry. It couldn’t be so. But, it was. Merry. Very.” It goes on, “Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing without any presents at all.”
Watching this again through my 42-year old eyes, it reinforced this simple thought for me: life is about nothing more than the beliefs that we hold and the relationships that we have with those we love. Quite simply: it’s about the love.
In that moment, I realized that even though I will not have the gift of my sweet sister at Christmas this year, I can still sing. My heart can still be overflowing. I can still smile. I can still rejoice in all of the blessings that Kass left behind. I can still drink in the memories of the 40 happy years I spent with her, and I can still reminisce with my family about all of the things we loved about her. I can still say a toast to her. I can still say a prayer for her. I can still call out to her and ask for her help and advice. I can still love her.
Just because something wonderful and beautiful was taken away from me this year, does not mean that I cannot be happy. In fact, I know that Kass would want it this way. On our trip back from Chicago only one week before she died, she looked at me as we held hands together in the car. She turned to me and she said, “What about you? What are you going to do once I have to leave here?” And, then she said the most beautiful words to me that I shall never forget. A beautiful and genuine gift that I will cherish forever: she turned to me and said, “I want you to be happy. I do not want your life to be ruined because I had to die. Please promise me that you will be happy.” When I think back to that moment, I wonder what kind of courage it takes for someone to say actually say these words out loud? But, that was Kass. So strong and so courageous.
I am not sure what I did to deserve this amazing gift? In fact, I have no idea how to be truly happy without her. But, I do know that every time I want to curl up in a ball on my bed and never get up again, I hear her voice and those words in my head, “Please promise me that you will be happy.” And then, I know what I need to do. This is how I will honor Kass. I will honor Kass by living, loving, and by simply being happy.
So, as you gather around your Christmas table this year, I beg you to pause. Sit quietly and drink in the stillness. Take a look around. Don’t miss the moment. Think of all of the blessings that you have in your life. Think of all of the love that is sitting around your table this year. Don’t focus on what you don’t have, but rather focus instead on what you do. Take nothing for granted. Think about those who have left us and say a prayer for them, too.
I can promise you this, as I am living proof: no matter how hard you pray, no matter how hard you love, no matter how hard you try to save someone, tomorrow is not a guarantee. Today is all that we know.
Just last week, I gathered with others to say goodbye to another beautiful soul who left us too soon. She was a young wife, mother, sister, aunt, niece…just like Kass. I had been given this beautiful gift to be able to meet her back in September. We talked about a lot of things that day. It seemed that she and Kass had shared a similar cancer journey. When she talked, I saw in her the same fierce determination, courage, and strength that I saw as Kass fought. In some strange way, I felt close to her. I felt her spirit that day, and I knew that no matter what, “everything would be okay.” Kass had taught me that.
Our community has suffered a lot of loss this year. In one amazing moment that evening, two of the mothers who had each lost a child this year stood and talked with my Dad as we all waited in the receiving line at the funeral home. I stepped back and I watched the three of them talking and I thought, “This just does not seem right. How did all of these young people die? And, all within a few months of each other? How is this fair?” In that moment, I was reminded once again that life is not fair. No matter how hard we try, we are not in control.
With the dawn of each new day, we are given just one more chance to do the right thing. We possess the power to love and the ability to be open to happiness. Only we can choose how we will use these gifts.
And, just like those Who’s from Whoville, this Christmas I have found a reason to sing. It is my greatest hope that you will find one, too.