Three years ago in December, I was staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, a few blocks from Strong Memorial Hospital where my daughter was preparing for her stem cell transplant. At the time there was only one family and very few staff there; everyone else had gone home for the holidays. When a small troupe of musicians showed up one night, the volunteer in the office begged me to join the tiny audience in the living room. I did, although I was not in the mood for Christmas carols. Marika had sung in caroling groups and now she was stuck in the hospital with leukemia. It didn’t seem right that I should be serenaded in that beautiful living room, next to a huge lit-up tree.
The musicians outnumbered the audience. I sat before them in a rocking chair and tried to smile. It was fine for the first couple of songs. But when they started “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” something inside me cracked. I tried to hide my tears. I did not want to be hugged by the volunteer or anyone. By the time they got around to “Silent Night” I was completely broken.
My reaction surprised and confused me. Marika was still alive and there was so much hope. We were moving forward. We were on the upside. Why was I miserable? I had no idea then that in less than three months our world would crash.
On the longest night of the year, three years later, I went to the Gifts of the Winter Solstice concert at Ithaca’s Hospicare. The large living room was packed. There were only a few familiar faces in the crowd as I wormed my way to a seat in the back.
It was supposed to be a celebration of the winter solstice so I did not expect Christmas carols. Three notes into the introduction of “Silent Night” my heart catapulted into my stomach. I glanced around wildly to make a quick exit but there was no way out of the crammed room. I was stuck.
The lights blurred through my tears. But halfway into the song I knew I would be all right. The lyrics were about heavenly peace and redeeming grace, brightness and calm. It suddenly became a lullaby and I let it settle me.
In the past three years, peace has grown within me. The pain of my daughter’s death sits more gently on my heart now. After the concert I lingered a short while to have cookies and a few words with friends from my old grief group. And later, in the rain, walking my dog before bed, I sang “Silent Night” to the invisible moon. I sang to my angel on the other side of the moon, on the darkest longest night of the year.