For the Down Hearted: on Death, Love, God and Christmas

I try not to talk too much about my religious beliefs, not only because they are a private matter for everyone, not only because the topic is ripe for hot debate and self-righteous scolding, not only because I am not even sure what they ARE.

My idea of naming different religions and sticking to ritual is a little bit like the Native Americans view of owning land. It is there before you are born, and will remain after your bones are buried under it. How can anyone put boundaries on that?

Christmas places a lot of incidental pressure on folks. The spending expectations can be especially trying. For people like me who have suffered serious loss, the holidays are bittersweet, providing a challenge in new ways to celebrate and find gladness in moments, for the first time in a lifetime, now devoid of certain people and experiences.

dad's gift.jpg

One of my fondest Christmas memories is of a music box tree my parents gave me. It’s made of ceramic, with a winder on the bottom. It rotates slowly and tinkles out, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

The year I unwrapped this tree was 2009. I sat on the floor by Dad’s feet, collecting shreds of tinsel, bright ribbons and paper and putting them in a bag. I started singing the song. Dad sang it with me, his deep, strong timber blending with my wavering alto notes, carrying them effortlessly.

“Let your heart be light,

From now on our troubles will be out of sight…”

We sang the whole thing together.

I have suffered other losses in my life. We lost Mom on New Year’s Eve in 2010. My best friend of 23 years, Kimmy, died in 2003. I thought I might never recover from that one. I probably never have. I lost another close friend, Rita, in 2016.  We had been friends for nearly 30 years. And back in 1987 my dear friend Linda was killed. She too made a profound impact on me. My first published book, “Holding the Ladder”, is about Linda.

But I have never held anyone in my heart as firmly as I have my dad.

“Five minutes after I am gone,” he said to me once, “I will try to contact you.”

Dad and I spent many quiet moments throughout our days and evenings, deep in discussion, talking about books and ideas and animals. In the long afternoons on Drummond Island he liked to take a sip of Jack Daniels from a bottle he had hidden under the porch. One day he got pleasantly inebriated, talking about my siblings and how Mom had yelled at him for favoring me.

“But, you love all of us,” I said.

“But I love you more! I can’t help it. We just have too much in common. I told Mother, ‘Nancy and I are compatible.'”

I wanted to cover my ears; it is something no child should ever hear from a parent. While he may have never said it while sober, we all knew it was true.

Siblings claim that Dad was not a man of his word; that he was an irresponsible parent and did not take care of matters as he should. This is not the person I knew. Dad’s problem was that he trusted too much. He thought a handshake would carry an agreement.

Dad hasn’t appeared to me. But what, in the timeline of infinity, does ‘five minutes’ mean?

There is no question that the love lives on. I carry him in my heart.

Today, I realized that this is the closest to God that any earthly person can be. If there is a God, he comes with a knowing deep within you. It happens no matter what anyone tells you about him: The certainty of right and wrong. The glimmer of humanity in small gestures. The search for kindness. The pursuit of all things that are good and right, truthful and fair.

No matter what any person says, the love is real.

You carry him in your heart.

Happy Christmas to all!




About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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