The door bell rang, but when I answered there was no one there; just a mysterious package. To my delight, the package was a Christmas gift. Even more delightful was the fact that it was just the beginning of a series of twelve drive-by giftings; all committed by a secret Santa.
2002 was promising to be one of those Christmases that every romantic fantasizes about. A living Currier and Ives mashup of Rockwellian proportions. I was the romantic who dreamed it was possible to have the perfect Christmas; complete with scenes of caroling children bunching and crunching in the snow-laden streets of my hometown. Having a secret Santa was a wonderful lead-in to my perfect Christmas fantasy. But we would soon to get a phone call that would rock the very foundation of my perfectly assembled Christmas village.
“Mrs. Wideman, we see something on your mammogram and need you to come in for more tests.”
This did not fit into our plan for a perfect Christmas. The fact that the doctor wanted the tests performed before the holidays only increased the probability that my Christmas fantasy would remain just that; a fantasy. How I wished Sally hadn’t answered the phone, then I could have lived in my fantasy and continued to deny the reality of any problem.
But cancer doesn’t take a holiday, so arrangements were made for a lumpectomy the day before Christmas Eve. It was also the day we had originally planned to travel fourteen hours to be with Sally’s family. But that would have to wait, there were more pressing issues than having the perfect Christmas family gathering. By this time I had accepted the reality of our Christmas dream-turned-nightmare.
“It’s definitely cancer,” was the only thing I heard the surgeon say. The floor shifted causing me to fall back against the waiting room wall. I was told I could go see my wife in recovery and tell her the news; the bad news. Wasn’t Christmas supposed to be about the Good News? Christ came to earth to bring us hope, peace, love and joy; not cancer.
I gazed into her eyes when I told her. I thought about how I hadn’t done enough eye-gazing and vowed to do it more. Time froze on that cold winter morning in the recovery room. As our eyes locked, few words were spoken, but many were received. Tears flowed as dreams melted. Hearts were fused in renewed love and desperation.
When we got home, we gathered the kids and told them the news. I remembered thinking how young they were to have to experience the dashed dreams of their own Christmas fantasies. They wouldn’t have as many years to get to live in the denial of the existence of pain and suffering during the holidays.
It wasn’t long before the call rang out at our church that Sally indeed had breast cancer. Over the next few hours, the church ladies did what they did best; they showed up. Some of them brought prayer quilts and lotions and comfort food casseroles. They hugged, they cried, they sat, they prayed. There was also a circle of breast cancer survivors who immediately adopted Sally into a sisterhood she had hoped never to join. They were a big source of encouragement and comfort to both of us.
We decided we needed to be with family, so we loaded up our ’98 Explorer for our cross country trip. A major snow storm was bearing down on our area, so we planned on driving with as few stops as possible in an effort to avoid getting snowed in, snowed out, or snowed under. Sally took her pain meds, lowered her car seat straight back and fell asleep with her head in our daughter’s lap who was sitting directly behind her. We only stopped for gas; Sally sleeping the entire fourteen hour drive.
There is healing power being with family, at least there should be. It certainly was for us; maybe not physically, but emotionally for sure. We told stories, sang songs, watched movies, ate meals, baked cookies, gave gifts, hugged necks and prayed prayers during our week together. It was as close to Norman Rockwell as one could get while still facing a deadly disease.
As we said our final goodbyes and headed back home to face more surgery and chemo, I thought about how different this Christmas had turned out compared to my perfect Christmas fantasy. The sound of jingle bells and sleigh bells had been replaced with the music of a different kind; a Christmas carillon.
I looked up “carillon” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It read, “A set of fixed chromatically tuned bells sounded by hammers controlled from a keyboard.” When I read that, I realized that’s exactly what we experienced that Christmas. In my fantasy to have the perfect Christmas, I thought I had to have a set of events align in perfect tune and sequence. The only problem, life doesn’t work that way. The carillon cannot be played without being pounded by some hard knocks. But thank God, when we allow him to control the keyboard, he has always had a way of making beautiful music with the pounding of a hammer.