by Lorena Klaes
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
I was eight years old when my paternal grandmother died in November of 1973. This left us — my older sister, two older brothers and I — to be raised by our father with no other family support around. To my younger brother and I, my grandmother had been like a mother to us since we were three and two years old. To my older brother and sister, her death was the loss of a mother for a second time in their young lives.
Conventional grief counseling of today was not the norm back in the 1970s. We were all completely devastated and afraid, and reacted in our own ways. My father’s fear of our future was often shown in anger and sadness.
Even when my grandmother was alive, my father and grandmother had always struggled to make ends meet; they barely had enough money for food. It was common to cash one check to cover another check before it bounced, so he could afford to buy groceries. We were always the customers who had to put items back one at a time until the total bill matched the amount of money we had. We children also contributed what money we could from babysitting and paper routes. But after my grandmother passed away, the situation became even more difficult.
One month after she died, my father announced he could not afford to buy Christmas presents for us. We children sadly accepted this as another loss to our family. My grandmother had coordinated the Christmases of the past, and though they were not extravagant, they were nonetheless memorable in a child’s mind.
My father’s co-worker, Don, had heard my father could not afford Christmas presents. Upon sharing this news with his family, each of his four children gave up one of their gifts to us. My father was so overwhelmed by their kindness, he cried. This was only the second time I had ever seen my father cry. The first time was when his mother died. This time these were tears of joy.
I was so delighted to receive my present, my very first Barbie doll. As a child, that Barbie was my best gift ever — it was my diamond of diamonds! As I grew to adulthood, I also grew to understand the deeper beauty of this act. As my father later told me, Don had a wife and four children of his own, and he had struggled with alcoholism. This disease eventually separated him from his family. But even with their struggles, they found the heart to help another family in need, and made that Christmas the most beautiful and memorable Christmas I can remember.
As we grew as a new family, we struggled, but we also passed on this act of kindness, first as children and then as adults. In one instance, as a teenager, my sister bought Christmas gifts for a family in need with money from her high school job. What goes around, comes around!
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.