Christmas Eve 2013, and I was almost to my destination for the night. My good friend Ed in New Jersey had suggested I stop by, as I was set to deliver in Rhode Island on the day after Christmas. He insisted I stay with his family for Christmas, and I happily accepted.
I was a little bit surprised at first, because his wife Diane had asked that I not stop by for a while. There has always been a bit of friction between us that I regret, and once it came to the point where I didn't think she wanted me there, I had avoided Ed's home. So this invitation caught me off guard.
As I pulled into Ed's driveway, he came out the front door and met me as I parked and climbed out of the hatchback I was driving. "Bill, welcome."
"Christmas Eve gift."
"OK, whatever that means."
"It is a Christmas tradition in my family."
"I'm all for tradition. Listen, just wanted to give you a heads up on Diane. She is not doing too well."
"Is she sick?" I asked.
"Sick at heart, you might say." He folded his hands and looked down at the ground. "I've never seen her like this."
"You know that her Mother died last week, right?"
"No, I did not know. I'm sorry to hear it."
"Yeah, well it was a long time coming. It wasn't much of a shock for anyone but Diane. And she just isn't coping with it at all."
"Should I leave then? Is this a bad time?"
"Heck no you're not leaving," Ed proclaimed. "It's Christmas buddy. Where would you go?"
I shrugged. He hugged me tightly, then we went into the house.
Ed had to go pick up the kids, and I said I'd just hang around the house until he got back. He warned me that Diane should be left alone, but that she'd most likely stay in her room. I sat at the kitchen table and began to write. Sometimes it feels like I don't have enough opportunity to work on my writing, but I love it so much.
A half hour after Ed left, I heard a crash. Diane appeared in the kitchen, and seemed startled to see me. "Bill? What are you doing here?"
"Ed invited me for Christmas. Hope you don't mind?"
She held her hand up to her head and made a motion like she was knocking on her skull. "Yes, yes, I remember now. It's all set, it's fine, I don't have a problem with this."
"Good, I thank you for your hospitality." I stayed quiet while she fumbled around the kitchen. It looked like she was trying to find something, but I chose to leave her be. That is, until she dropped to her knees and began sobbing. I hurried over to her side.
"She's gone, Bill. My Mom is gone. How am I supposed to...?"
Diane lashed out at me. "You do not understand. no one possibly can. I've lost the woman who was dearest in the world to me. And right before Christmas, for pity's sake!"
I nodded. "I feel for you."
"Really? You? Well I guess that makes me feel so much better," she spat out sarcastically.
"Diane, did you know that my own mother died ten years ago."
This stopped her cold. "What? No."
"It's true. She and my brother were riding to come and meet me over the holidays, and they were killed by a drunk driver. Ever since, the holidays tended to be very hard for me to deal with."
"How did you get through it?"
"Just like in AA, one day at a time. I know that sounds trite, but its a simple plan that really does work. I know you miss your Mom, and I feel for your loss so deeply. You are a dear, sweet, wonderful lady who adored your Mom, and now she has left us. But she is somewhere so much better than here, and one day you will see her again."
"I know. That is what gives me comfort."
Diane nodded, then got angry. "But its not fair! Its not fair! Do you realize what a big hole there will be in my life without her."
"Yes, I do. When my mother and brother died, it pretty much left me alone. My Dad died when I was very young, before I had a chance to meet him. So I would encourage you to be happy you still have your Dad around. And Ed, who loves you very much. And your kids, who couldn't get along without you. I know you're hurting right now, but try real hard to focus on the living. There are people here who need you very much."
"Thank you, Bill."
I took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "And I'm your friend, and I will be here for you anytime that you need me." Diane came at me fast and grabbed me for a hug. It was warm and welcome.
I thought a lot about it as the day wore on. Here was this woman who I had been having strained relations with for so many years, and now I was her friend and confidante. I still have this theory that if we can overcome our petty grievances and jealousies and try to reach out and help others, the world would be that much better of a place. I spent the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day being as jolly as I possibly could, and being so thankful that I had a family to spend the holiday with.