We lost Grandpa on Christmas Eve.
He was a man of strength and silence. His softness bespoke greater power than any raised voice ever would. His tools were those of reason and thought and anything shaped with their wisdom hummed with the warmth of sun-polished wood.
Where other men might have railed against the unjust discovery of an inoperable brain tumor, Grandfather bowed to the will of an all-knowing Father and trusted Him to do what was best.
And the Father called him home.
On the night the world celebrated the Savior’s first drawn breath, we mourned the loss of another great man. There was little time to reconnect to the joy of Christmas. So much needed to be done and in the midst of it, my parents strove to keep the spirit of the season from dispersing. The younger children had long awaited the joy of Christmas morning and my parents, though devastated, still planned to give it to them. Their sorrow was buried beneath loving duty.
I will never know what strength it took for my father to carry on, preparing a world of magic and wonder when his own had been swallowed beneath a mantle of loss. I imagine that many quiet tears were shed and that his heart was burdened with the unsaid. Somehow, he did what he had to.
Morning came, our front room littered with Santa’s gifts in bright red, green, and white. Stockings brimmed with treats and essentials; toothbrushes, lotions, and a traditional orange. Not a single thing had been forgotten, despite the tragedy that befell our family.
It was family tradition to open one gift at a time, oldest to youngest, so that the joy of Christmas could last just a bit longer, to linger in heart and mind long after the last parcel was unwrapped. Everyone took turns picking gifts for others and passed them around the room until they reached their addressed recipient.
The tags were the true treat. Witty messages like, “To ‘Ariel’: From Flounder”. The fun was in deciphering the message and unwrapping the gift to see how it matched. It was one more gift that Dad gave us, silliness in the face of sorrow.
The circle went around and it was my Father’s turn. Someone spoke, “This says ‘To Craig Field.’”
Everyone paused, knowing that my dad and brother have the same first name. No one calls dad, “Craig”; not even on Christmas tags.
The gift was passed, a small square shaped present in plain paper. Neither Christmas bow nor dash of festive color adorned it. It fit easily in the palm of my father’s hand.
My father’s face, writ with confusion, softened as his eyes flickered over the words scrawled in ink. With a teary whisper, he read, “To Craig Field: From Dad.”
Tears welled in every eye, many slipping free to glide over our cheeks as we watched my dad unwrap the small gift with trembling hands.
A glint of gold was all we saw before my father began to cry. He raised a hand to cover his eyes, overcome by surge of peace and love that was palpable in the still, winter morn. Not a one of us could stifle tears.
In his hand, my father held a small picture of Grandpa.
It was one last gift from father to son, to remind him that the journey wasn’t over, that Family is Forever.
That Christmas, though heavy with loss, was one of the most powerful our family has ever had. We came together, united by grief, and sought to carry one another. We came to understand Christmas as we never had before; it was more than a season of giving, it was a time of sacrifice and service. Where the world could not reach, love spanned.
We came to understand what God had given to us as mankind. In giving up a man we loved dearly, we better understood the love of an Eternal Father, giving up His Son for the sake of the world. In giving up our grandfather, we were given a great truth; This was not the end. This life was but one moment in a greater whole.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
With each Christmas that comes and goes, my grandfather still reaches out. He reminds us that death is not the end and that families can be together forever.
And under the tree each year, he says it with a small, plain package that reads: To Craig Field: From Dad.