On Christmas Eve, an act of love amid grief | News, Sports, Jobs - Alpena News
There are six kids in my family — four boys and two girls.
I am the fifth, and the first girl born after four rambunctious boys. My sister arrived two years later, completing our mob of a half-dozen kids. As one might expect, my childhood was filled with a lot of chaos. There was never a dull moment. My four older brothers provided a constant source of energy that filled our home with a kind of joyful disarray.
There was a major shift in that energy when my second-oldest brother died in a car accident.
In his absence, a fog of despair had settled over our house. When I look back now on the memories of my childhood, they feel muted and muzzled — witnessed through the lens of grief.
My brother died the day before Halloween, and the Christmas that followed was quiet and lacking the energetic hum that usually rattled the walls of our house.
Not many photos exist from that Christmas, or, really, from the first few years that followed his death. I think my mother found it unbearable to take photos when one of us was missing. The six was now five, an odd number painfully obvious when we were all together.
At just 4 years old, I understood that he was gone and that our house was different, but I could not truly comprehend the loss.
That Christmas, I was still mainly concerned about what Santa would bring me. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, I distinctly remember tiptoeing down the staircase of our old farmhouse, gripping the railing and hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa placing gifts under the tree.
Santa was not there that night, but in the glow of the Christmas tree, I remember seeing my oldest brother diligently assembling a giant, pink Barbie Jeep. The kind that kids drive around the yard.
I was so surprised by his presence and the gift he was preparing for Christmas morning that I was confused by what I was seeing for a moment. My brother quickly jumped up and hurried me back to my room, where I tried to contain my excitement and go back to sleep.
It is a memory I always recall because it was completely out of the ordinary. With six kids, my parents couldn’t typically afford large, extravagant gifts.
When my sister and I came racing downstairs the next morning, there it was, in all its pinky glory. We squealed and screamed as we jumped into the jeep and drove it around our living room.
Years later, it would dawn on me that my brother had been an 18-year-old kid that saved his earnings from delivering pizzas to buy his sisters such a great gift. Then, he stayed up all night assembling it to surprise us on Christmas morning.
While my parents were all consumed with the death of their son, my oldest brother was there doing his best to bring a sense of joy at such a difficult time. I don’t think many kids that age would be quite so selfless in such turmoil.
It never really occurred to me just how thoughtful his actions had been until I had my own kids.
As a mother, that fierce, innate need to protect your children becomes an anchor to your sense of self. I cannot fathom how my own mother must have felt — and probably still feels — with the loss of a child. I would be inconsolable, unable to get out of bed, unable to focus on anything, much less care for five children.
I think back to that moment, when my childhood self didn’t really know what was going on, when I was still consumed with the hopes of what Santa would bring while my parents and older brothers probably didn’t care to celebrate, my brother was there trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.
It is a constant reminder that Christmas is about being together and savoring those small moments of happiness and joy — because it can all change in an instant.
Kaitlin Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or at 358-5693.