She sits as close to him as circumstances will allow and, after 60 years, they are still holding hands. If she has not taken his, he reaches for hers. If ever two people were one, they are those people. But his health has declined significantly over the past few months, and his mind has already begun to wander. If life continues as it has, this could well be their last Christmas together.
Another woman begins walking down the center aisle as the congregation sings, a note clutched in her hand. Her husband follows, moving slowly; the effort required is great but so is his determination. She sits down on the front pew and he settles in behind her, his hand on her shoulder, his head bowed in anguish.
It is Christmas day and I am struggling to stay awake during our church service, not because the minister isn’t a good speaker but because I was up until 2:00 AM wrapping up the wrapping. And because I’m a Shackelford. We get still. We fall asleep. It’s just what we do. My struggle leads my eyes and mind to move about the room and I spy the first couple I mentioned. He sits in a chair which is easier on him than a pew. She sits on the pew to avoid completely blocking the aisle. And they constantly hold hands. I wonder how she must feel knowing what their future holds.
The second wife came tearfully pleading for strength and peace. Her husband is battling cancer, a battle that he appears to be losing. As the minister read her prepared statement her husband bowed his head and wept at her pain . . . as did most everyone else in the auditorium.
For a day so filled with joy and childish excitement there were those who were hurting, grieving over losses suffered or losses yet to be. And now we approach the new year, a time of possibilities and anticipation, bringing hope and second chances. Perhaps a new baby is on the way or a wedding is being planned. There may be a new job or a promotion or even retirement waiting for us as the calendar changes and the cycle begins again. Or maybe we just want to escape the old year in hopes that the next one will be not only new but also improved. For many of us it is a time of renewed energy and enthusiasm when we resolve to be better and do better—and convince ourselves that this time it will stick. But for some the new year is an unwelcomed guest for the change it holds is one they never wanted. If they had the power to stop Time in its tracks they would do so in a heartbeat for Time has become their enemy.
As we plan and prepare for 2017 with eager anticipation, please be aware of those around us who are making preparations of a different sort. We may not have the power to give them a happy ending to their story, but we can offer strength and comfort and support as they walk the very difficult path upon which they have been placed. As you face the coming year with all of its promise, please remember to make time for those who face it filled with fear. And while you’re at it, remember that we never know what our future holds, so make the most of every moment spent with someone you love—and be grateful it was yours to enjoy.