My wife Blythe and I are on our annual winter sojourn to Williamsburg, Virginia. It has become a tradition for us, allowing us to re-acquaint ourselves with history while escaping the merciless drumbeat of the present. But, this is the first time we are experiencing the holidays since the death of my mom in September, and so emotions are different–more intense–than they have been. Five years ago, my parents joined us here, on what would become their final trip together before their deaths.
Last evening, Blythe and I attended a concert of traditional Christmas songs by local performer Timothy Seaman, accompanied by 18th century instruments–flutes, dulcimers and psalteries. Five years ago, when my dad was not feeling well after a busy day, my mom and I had attended a similar concert–just the two of us, the only time in my adult life that just my mother and I had “gone out” alone together. Hennage Auditorium, where the concert took place, held a special, almost sacred, place in my heart because of the time I spent there with my mom.
The thread running through last night’s concert was a celebration of Virginia evergreens and included audience participation. The setting was conducive to forgetting about today’s headlines filled with impeachment updates and the latest developments at the NATO meeting in London. But, as we sang “O Tannenbaum,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and other Christmas classics, emotions tacked just below the surface.
Throughout my career, I’ve performed scores of funerals and counseled hundreds of bereaved to be aware that feelings of grief might surface at any time, so I was not surprised when memories tugged at me during this special moment. Then, as we were invited to join in with “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming,” we could hear a man in the audience exuberantly singing, slightly off-key and a beat behind the rest. Whisps of nostalgia became a torrent of emotion.
My dad always sang that way in church–full-throated, but not quite on key or in time. He forever embarrassed his grandchildren, but members of his small congregation loved it. He always said that God didn’t care about his technique and clearly what he lacked in skill he made up for in passion.
Like ghosts of Christmas past, my parents were both with me, as real as if they had purchased their own tickets for the concert. But, their presence was not Scrooge-like, filled with remorse or foreboding. Rather, their spirit offered yet another gentle reminder of how blessed I have been to have had two parents who loved me unconditionally and whose spirit continues to fill me with moments of comfort and joy, even though they are no longer physically present.