Getting out of bed was tough today; Dan went through the motions once again. He glanced at the clock by his bed and groaned. It was ten o'clock. Half the morning was gone. His children were probably waiting anxiously for him to wake up so they could go.
"Dad, are we going?" His son, the younger of the two, was at the bedroom door, impatient.
"Yes Billy, we're going. Just let me get dressed," swinging his legs over the side of the bed he added, "Have you eaten breakfast?" Everything was difficult to do these days, but he knew his children needed to eat.
"Yeah, Mom gave us cereal." He scrunched up his nose, and said, "She's crying again."
"Okay son, thank you." Dan felt like crying too, but there were no tears left. "Close the door on your way out."
The door clicked shut, leaving Dan alone with his thoughts. All right now, it's time. Stand up. Get dressed, pants, shirt, socks, shoes. There, now go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair. His daily routine was purely mechanical, but it was now accomplished. He made his way for the kitchen.
Shelly, his wife greeted him with a light kiss on the cheek. "'mornin', did you sleep at all?"
"Sleep doesn't come these days." They both knew that all too well.
"Do you want anything to eat?" Her voice was as mechanical sounding as his actions.
"No, I'd rather just get going and get this thing over." He responded.
She nodded. Billy and Grace were told to get their coats and head to the car.
They drove thirty miles or so to the Tree Farm in silence. There would be no singing and playing this year.
It had only been a week since they had said their good-byes to little Sarah, their little princess. They had reserved this day over a month ago, so cancelling was out of the question.
This was her favorite time of the season. Dan's favorite too, because of Sarah. He loved chasing her through the trees as they picked the perfect one to cut down. Then he would set her on his shoulders as the Tree Farm owner would place the tree on a sled. Sarah rode high above squealing her delight when snow would shake loose from a branch falling on her head.
This year he would not laugh. He could not cry. His entire being was numb.
This year, he went tree hunting for the two children still with him.
He stood there, staring at the forest of Christmas trees. Willing his feet to move just was not working this time. His body felt cold, although he was bundled in several jackets and the air was strangely warm.
Ben, the Tree Farm owner, watched from his office window. He saw Dan standing there. They were high school buddies, and now caught up with each other every year at this time.
He heard about Sarah, and felt the hole in his heart as well. Dan did not even seem to notice Billy and Grace running in circles around the light post by their car. Their laughter filled the air, but fell on deaf ears and hearts.
Ben's heart ached for this family. Watching them, he knew searching for that perfect tree would be an impossible task. Then he had an idea.
"Are you sure?" Dan was surprised. "I would be glad to pay for it." It was the largest, most beautiful tree on the farm. The needles were long and soft, almost like fur. Ben could easily sell it for premium pay, but he was insisting on giving it to this family.
"NO! I couldn't accept anything. Let's just say it's a gift, eh? It helps fill the hole in my heart." Tears glistened in the man's eyes. He choked on his final words. "I loved Sarah, too."
Back home, Dan and Shelly set the tree in place. Billy and Grace helped put on the decorations. They moved about somberly, now. Although their mom and dad told them Sarah was with Jesus, they seemed to understand the need for quiet, especially at home.
They knew Mommy and Daddy hurt because Sarah was not here. They seemed to understand that although Sarah was with Jesus, it was a very hard thing letting her go.
Billy turned off the all household lights and Grace lit the tree lights. All four of them sat on the sofa holding each other, in silence. Tears flowed freely once again as they waited for the holes in their hearts to heal.
Life, to me, is a dress rehearsal. I love how words spin together, with limitless possibilities.
I've been married for 18 years with four children along for the ride. It's a joy to weave them into the story of my life, as we camp, picnic, read, ride bikes, play games, and learn together.