If it wasn’t for the little porcelain statue of Mary and Joseph cradling their infant son, taking up a place in the middle of the mantle, one wouldn’t even know that it was Christmas day in our house.
The excited squeals and pounding of little feet on the wooden floorboards early Christmas morning were long since over and not for the same reasons as most households. Our two bright, happy little blessings, one with a crew cut and one in pigtails, had not grown up big and tall one day and left the nest in search of their own adventures, they had not met their soul mates and moved on to start their own families. No, our children, our reasons for living, had dragged our sleepy heads out of bed at an ungodly hour for the last time, 7 Christmas’ ago.
We had no idea that morning, as we watched the tearing open of gifts contentedly from the couch, sipping our mugs of coffee, that by midnight that night, it would be just the two of us again. We were oblivious to the gale force of devastation heading our way. It was a perfect day, gifts were exchanged, gratitude expressed, food indulged in, family reacquainted, including our children with their 14 yr old cousin, who would later stay to babysit while we parents and grandparents attended a Christmas party at the bar 6 blocks away.
Nothing in this world could ever wipe away the incredible guilt we felt for leaving them all alone that night. What kind of parents were we to go out drinking on Christmas night, while our children were at home suffocating from the thick cloud of smoke that filled the house after they’d fallen asleep?
My husband, beat himself up for years because he wasn’t there to protect them and I, consumed by my guilt, could no longer call myself a Mother, for in my eyes a Mother (if she was paying attention) should always have a kind of intuition about disastrous events on the horizon and do everything she can to keep her babies safe.
It didn’t matter how many people tried to console us that it wasn’t our fault, how could we know the 12 year old tree lights we’d picked up at a yard sale would short out that night, turning our 7 foot Christmas tree into a towering inferno. How could we know that by the time the kids were woken from their sleep by the fire alarm downstairs, the entire ground floor of the house would be engulfed and their bedrooms upstairs full of deadly lung collapsing smoke. No, it didn’t matter how many people told us we weren’t to blame, we blamed ourselves every single day since.
Our Christmas’ were no longer full of excited laughter and family get-together’s. We no longer stayed up late on Christmas eve drinking eggnog while putting together toy kitchens or bicycles with a hundred parts, reminiscing about Christmas eve’s gone by. Christmas had a whole new meaning for us now. The first few years were hard and dark and we spent the majority of Christmas day in mourning for what we’d lost but we soon tired of this painful tradition and recognized it’s unproductiveness in our lives.
We now have a new tradition. See we have two houses now. We rent a small apartment where the two of us live with our 2 Dachshunds, Mary and Joseph residing on the mantle, and we have another large home that we purchased with our insurance money, were we provide shelter to families who’ve lost their homes to fires or flooding.
Every Christmas we decorate the stately home and put on a lavish feast for our residents. Although not a replacement for our lost children, it provides us with a welcome distraction and an atonement of sorts for our tormented souls.
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