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Our Last Christmas Gift Exchange

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen 

Hopefully this article will at least prove interesting as well as helpful for people going through the grieving process. Charlene has been gone for just over three months, and this first Christmas in over twenty years without her is brutal.

This morning I got up and took a picture of the tree, which is three feet tall and pre-lit, set on an end-table. I added some ornaments. One was a gut punch because it was from her late sister, "New Home 2008" for our new apartment. Now Charlene is celebrating her first Christmas with Jesus in her new home.

Using a tripod and the phone camera's night setting, plus I removed clutter
Our last Christmas together, we both had the Rona.

On Christmas Eve, we watched the 1951 Scrooge (changed to A Christmas Carol)...just noticed that I wrote "we watched" out of habit. This movie was in our rotation for Christmas Eve and Day viewings. I only made it about halfway though, what with being tired and all — we frequently watched movies in installments the past few years.

If you look closely, you can see three presents under the tree. After breakfast, we commenced to having our gift exchange. I opened her first one to me: a lighthouse calendar. I've liked lighthouses for a long time, and we visited several together. Her present from me was a jigsaw puzzle of garden birds. I set it down by the chair where she would be sitting, then picked it up and took it out of the gift bag. Finally, I opened her last gift to me (I burst out in tears writing those words). Although I try to avoid brand names in my writing, it is appropriate here: A gift set of Stetson after shave and cologne.

Charlene, Christmas 2005 while joking with Darlene, edited, framed at PhotoFunia, edited again
I found one of those videos of a yule log with Christmas music, another tradition I picked up from her. It's playing in the living room right now.

Charlene and I had different approaches to Christmas gifts. She wanted lists, and I didn't care for that. After last year's Christmas, I was in a store and saw that Stetson gift pack. Almost bought it for myself, then decided I would put it on a list for her to get me. Obviously that didn't happen. She had some cash here, and I used her money to buy my gifts; it's not much of a stretch to say that she bought them for me.

The jigsaw puzzle for her has an interesting story. I saw some recently in a store and thought I would have bought a Looney Tunes puzzle for her. Then I saw the garden birds puzzle, and stepped into a corner to weep quietly. A team lead from the store spoke kindly to me. 

In Laundroland (I like to make laundromat sound like a theme park) the next day, I was telling someone about my experience. This was partly to say my grief is profound, but also to brag on the kindness of the team lead. She said that I should buy it and put it together for her, envision her there with me. Then, get puzzle glue and make it into a poster. That struck me as a great idea. When I discussed it with several other people, they agreed.

Strange, two Christmases in a row now have been without snow here.

I've been playing some of her Christmas music CDs yesterday and today (before putting on the yule log video), and it's a big thing that I've done these things. Before, I had asserted that there would be no decorations or anything here because it hurt too much. Then I relented and got that tree. I donated the other one we had to charity, and while doing so I remembered that we had agreed to get rid of that five-foot thing anyway. 

Playing a race against time from when the charity opened and a telephone appointment, I had half an hour to take the tree and several other Christmas things to them. The skies were grayish purple and it was raining. Almost home, the sun was coming out behind me. Stopped at the traffic light and looking ahead at the dark sky, I also saw a rainbow.

I briefly thought of getting a black tree or black ornaments because I'm mourning. Then I realized that I'd be emphasizing that, and succumbing to it. Wrong-o!

There were no cards from us in 2022, and I was not going to send any this year. As with decorations, a tree, and playing music, I changed my mind. Some folks needed to know, or mayhaps they are people who really have no interest in keeping up with us — with me. If they don't call, text, or e-mail, I'll leave them alone. Or they may really want to know.

Maybe it's a kind of aversion therapy (forced to face things) or something else, but after the tree stuff, music, cards, and buying her the puzzle for a gift, I to describe this? I'll say I felt something change inside me. It could have been the mercy of God, but I felt a kind of peace about Christmas. That's appropriate.

Don't be disunderstanding me here, there have been plenty of tears and a great deal of pain. But it's better somehow. Something that played a big part in how I stopped trying to hide from Christmas and the associated pain of loss was giving greater emphasis to its true meaning. This is something all of us should do.


  1. My mom passed away in August 2014. Between that and 7 other deaths of family over the next few Yeats, he started slipping in his faith and church attendance.
    This year, just in time for my birthday of all things (I attribute it it to God’s faithfulness and grace), he realized his nonsense from his grief, and he has decided to seek ministry (after a calling 10 years ago). This Christmas, he also decorated for the first time since mom, and he called all three of his (very adult) kids (instead of waiting for us.)
    May this be some encouragement during this time. Hang in there by hanging on to Jesus, realizing He's holding you tightly in His arms.


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