Grandma passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. It was expected and yet still a surprise – she had looked well and had even done some cooking for the holiday. But she had been sick for some time and we were all relieved that she had gone quietly in her sleep. But it was strange to be back in her home feeling the pain of her loss so soon after the wonderful evening we had all had at Thanksgiving dinner. Without her presence the house felt cold and empty.
We had decided to come back to her house after the funeral. Though she had only lived in two rooms downstairs for years it was the biggest house in our family. So we had continued to have our family dinners there and everyone cooked a dish and brought it to the meal. Ordinarily we would now be going up to the attic to get the Christmas decorations and begin getting ready for the next family ritual – Christmas at Grandmas. This year we would be spending our Christmas celebrations at our own homes without her. It would be a very sad Christmas for us all.
Friends were coming to give their condolences and everyone seemed busy doing something so I decided to go up to the attic for one last look at those old Christmas decorations. They seemed to have been thrown all over the place and were dusty and broken. It was as if someone had known they would not be used again. In the corner was a sealed box that still looked like it held something valuable. It seemed to call to me and I opened it. Inside was indeed something very special. Grandma had been an artist and had painted pictures that now hung in everyone’s home. But a long time ago she had painted a special string of light bulbs that had hung on her tree year after year. They were bigger than regular bulbs and strung on a wire that Grandpa had rigged specially for them. Each bulb had been painted to look like stained glass and when lighted they made magnificent colors on the walls and ceiling. I realized that I hadn’t seen them on the tree since Grandpa died several years ago. I decided to take them and hang them on my tree this year. When I brought them down everyone suddenly remembered how beautiful they had been and the family decided to decorate Grandma’s home one last time and meet here for Christmas dinner as we would have had she still been with us – a last goodbye to her from the entire family. So I left the bulbs in the corner of the room where I knew we would be putting up the tree.
Early in December I went to Grandma’s house to begin decorating and saw the sting of lights. I plugged them in but they didn’t work. Since the bulbs were candelabra size I began to put them into the chandelier to test them and see if any would still work. Several did light and the colors around the room brought a tear to my eye. But most didn’t light and I knew we would not be able to use the sting on the tree any more. I decided to put them all back on the string to keep them safe. Even unlit they were Grandma’s paintings and would be wanted by the family forever.
Though the house was decorated as gaily as always, it was a sad and solemn Christmas. My cousin saw the sting on lights sitting on the floor in the corner and plugged them in to try his hand at getting them to work. But they stayed as dark for him as they had for me. We ate in silence – it was harder than we had expected – cleaned up – and everyone began to leave. There was no reason to linger. It was time to go. The first Christmas without Grandma had been very hard for us all and we knew it was time to put the house up for sale and move on. After everyone had left I finished tidying up, took a deep breath, put on my coat, took a final look around and stepped out of the door.
I turned around for one last look and my eyes were drawn to the corner with the sting of lights. There, twinkling just for me, was one bulb, flickering gently on and off. And then just as suddenly as it had started it stopped. I knew it was impossible but I was sure it had happened. I had seen the colors reflected on the walls and ceiling for just a moment. It shone brightly for just that short time and I will never be convinced otherwise. Because I know, in those few seconds, Grandma had said a special goodbye to me. I wiped away my tears, closed the door, and moved on knowing my Grandma had been at Christmas dinner all along.