I know I usually don’t post stories over here… but this one I had to.
Always, Forever and Ever – Lady Kyleian, December 2007
I sighed and leaned back in my chair to listen more closely to the Christmassy cello piece my brother was practicing. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” The notes seemed to sing, and the words of the familiar carol rang in my mind. Tilting my head slightly to the left, I gazed at the colorful lights of the Christmas tree through half-closed eyes, liking the star effect it gave them. Like it was every year, the Christmas tree was a tall evergreen, decorated with lights, tinsel, and ornaments from my childhood. One of our three cats, Crackle, lay curled up on the fleece blanket underneath the tree, her paw opening and closing around a small parcel, the only one under the tree. It messily wrapped, and the tag on it was written in a child’s hand. “For Rebecca,” it read. Immediately I had known who it was from, that handwriting could only be my little sister Bethany’s.
The cello stopped singing, and then he started playing another Christmas carol, this one low and somber. I picked up a pillow from the couch and threw it at him, begging him to change the music. Annoyed, he threw his music books down on the floor and began putting his cello away.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I said.
“It wasn’t really helping anyway. It’s still there… not even music will help this time.”
“Do… do ya think she’s going to make it?” I asked, wondering if his hopes were anything contrary to mine.
“Bethy’s tough, Rebecca. If anyone can make it, she can.”
I pictured four-year-old Bethany in the hospital, sick with pneumonia and a million other things all at once, IVs sticking out of her arm, covered in blankets… mom and dad sitting by her side holding her hand.
Snow started to fall outside, one of the first times this winter. The first was a time I wanted to forget, that day Bethy had come inside from playing out in the snow coughing and sneezing. Instead of being rosy from the chilly winter air, her cheeks were pale. I caught her in my arms when she coughed so hard she almost toppled head first onto the rug.
The rest of it had been a blur, mom getting her bundled up in blankets and with a hot water bottle, sitting her by the heater while she called the doctor… and then everyone but Jacob and I had gotten in the car and driven to the hospital.
Three hours had passed, and there was still no word. We tried to keep busy, making hot chocolate, watching the sun go down… playing music, anything to take our minds off of Bethy. My mind whirred with silent prayers for my tow-headed little sister and her smiling, bouncy, cheerful ways.
I stared at Crackle and the little gift she held in her paw, wondering what was inside… and if Bethany would be there to see me open it on Christmas morning. Turning my attention to the window, I walked over to the couch and seated myself in a position where I could watch the snowflakes tumble to the ground, creating a winter wonderland.
The hours ticked by. Five. Snow an inch deep now covered all greenery outside. Six. The snow was finally letting up, allowing for a small break in the clouds to see the moon. Seven. Jacob and I played chess, engrossing our minds in something that needed our full attention. Eight. Jacob began to draw, his swift, light lines forming the soft features of Bethany’s child-like face. At exactly nine O’clock PM, the telephone rang. Jacob set down the pencil he was using to sketch with, jumping up to get the call.
“H-hi, this is Jacob,” he said, all run together so it almost sounded like “HithisisJacob.”
“The doctor…” There was silence for a few seconds, then the voice went on. “well…” Jacob set the phone so I could hear as well, and I listened from where I lay under the tree next to Crackle.
“Mom, just say it!” Jacob begged impatiently. When mom still didn’t reply, he went on, repeating what he had told me earlier “If anyone can make it, Bethy can.”
“The doctor thinks she won’t, Jacob. She’s too small to handle everything coming at her. They’re doing everything they can. You and Rebecca can go to bed if you like, we won’t be home for a while.”
“Thanks for calling, mom.”
Jacob hung up, walking back to his drawing with shuffling feet. I closed my eyes tightly, trying to keep the tears from coming. This was supposed to be the Christmas season. There was supposed to be joy. And now, seven days before Christmas, there was none in my heart, only a deep longing for Bethy to get better.
I must have fallen asleep under the Christmas tree, for I woke up under it, Crackle lying on my stomach and purring contentedly.
“Morning, girl,” I said groggily. Jacob sat at the table staring at the Christmas tree, his eyes half closed. I got up and walked over to him.
“Any more news?”
“Nothing going either way. Sounds like she’s just hanging in there.”
“Get some sleep, Jacob.”
“Can’t. I tried, all night long.”
All day long, my mind screamed to know. It screamed to find out if Bethy would get better, if Christmas this year would seem like Christmas. It screamed for lack of something better to do, out of both boredom and agony.
Then came the call. I answered it this time, and when I set the phone back down on the charger, I slumped to the ground. Jacob lowered his head and walked away, then a few minutes later began to play his cello again. Sometimes I thought it was his only source of emotion, playing his music, it was all he ever did when he was happy, angry, or sad. And he always played music to match his mood.
The tears fell freely, soaking my shirt, puddling on the floor around me. Bethy was gone, I would never see her beautiful baby-tooth filled smile again, never hold her hand when we crossed the street, never pick her up and carry her around the house like an airplane.
Preparations for the funeral began immediately, and they sped by without me realizing much had happened – it was as if I walked in a daze, moving through everything but not really knowing what I was doing. Barely anyone spoke in the house, we were all occupied with different things – Jacob with his cello, me with anything I could do around the house, mom calling people and places, dad going through some of Bethy’s old things…
Christmas Eve dawned to glistening snow on the treetops and a few snowflakes falling as the sun shone in between them. I rolled over in bed, not wanting to wake up. Today was Bethy’s funeral, a cold wintry day I didn’t want to face. Mom pounded on my door to get me up to get ready, and finally I stepped out onto the cold floor and hurried across to the rug, where I got dressed.
I was out of it most of the funeral, I don’t think I remember a single word of what was said, a single thing that was done… only that my precious Bethy was gone.
Late that evening, I sat on the couch staring at the Christmas tree lights as I had only six days before, when Bethy was still alive, when there was still hope. It was then my attention was again drawn to the small package beneath the tree. The messy letters stared at me, telling me to open them. I reached for it, pulling off the over-sized bow Bethany had taped on it, then peeling off the strips of tape. The contents of the wrapping spilled out onto my hand, and I looked at it all over and over again.
First came two quarters, some of the first money of her own Bethany ever had. They shined as if they were new because Bethany had rubbed them clean as if they were a silver tea pot. Next came her little pewter ballerina figurine, showing her hope to be a ballerina in the future. Many nights she had shared with me how someday she would leap across the stage and everyone would watch her and clap for her. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I looked in further to see the last little thing. It was only a wadded up piece of paper, but she had written inside it, words I never would have expected Bethany to write. I had seen her scribbling something with Jacob’s help when she sat by the heater, but I never knew its contents until now.
“To my favorite sister, Bec,” it read. “right now I feel really sick. Jake is helping me write this because I want to tell you something. I love you so much, and I don’t want to leave you. But I know –“ there was a scribble here because ‘know’ had been written ‘knom’ – “I will see you soon, with Jesus. Don’t forget me, Bec. When I sit in Jesus’ lap, I’ll tell him all about you, about how wonnerful (J says it’s wonderful, but I say wonnerful) you are. Bec, I haven’t left you, not all the way. I’m stored up in your heart, that’s what J says, cuz I’m in his, too. And I can’t never leave your heart, and you can’t never leave mine. I’m in there forever.
Don’t miss me for long, Bec.
By now the tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was sobbing uncontrollably. But one thing I knew: this Christmas season would be joyful. Bethy was right, she was stored up in my heart, and I shouldn’t miss her for long, because she was in a better place than I.
Jacob had come into the room while I was reading the letter, and sat down on the couch beside me.
“She was smart, wasn’t she?”
“Is, you mean,” I replied. “Not was.” I pointed at my heart. “She’s in here for always, forever and ever. Don’t miss her for long, Jacob.”
He nodded, then scooted closer to me. I leaned my head on his shoulder, repeating the words in my head. In here for always, forever and ever. Don’t miss her for long… don’t miss her for long…
Christmas, albeit sad, would have a different meaning this year, thanks to Bethy’s beautiful words and the healing touch of One from Above.
And it was a Merry Christmas, and little Bethy was in my heart, always, forever and ever.