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The First Christmas After Losing Our Son

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This was originally posted on the Joseph Middlemiss “All You Need is Love” Mission Facebook page on December 26, 2013.

Oh Joe. It’s Christmas night and the season we dreaded has almost come to an end. What’s usually the happiest time of the year for us has been so difficult. All the memories of your joyful Christmas days, all of our dreams for Christmas mornings with you and your brother, all the “would have beens.” You loved Christmastime so much. Our hearts are so heavy with longing.

After we lost you, Dad and I decided it would be far too difficult to celebrate the holidays this year. Without you by our side, we couldn’t imagine finding joy in anything. After thinking about what to do to carry on your legacy, dad came up with the great idea of the “All You Need Is Love Mission.” We did not mean to kick it off right at the start of the Christmas season, but that’s how it played out. As I sit back now, I realize it was probably your plan all along. So much of your legacy is tied to that of the Christmas story. I guess it’s not surprising that carrying out your missions helped to rekindle the true meaning of Christmas in our hearts. You’ve always been our Christmas miracle.

Following in your footsteps and giving in your name have been the only things that have brought us any semblance of joy this season. We truly hadn’t planned on experiencing any of this joy, but you kept nudging us along. I cannot even articulate the magnitude of your presence. I’ve even tried to overlook it, chalking all these powerful experiences up to being strange coincidences in our physical world. When I sit back, reflect upon my feelings and really allow myself to see the big picture, it is so very clear. You have been right by our side during this most difficult season, slowly opening our hearts and allowing glimmers of goodness and hope and love to shine through. So many have applauded the work we’ve done in your name, commented on our strength and conviction. What they don’t understand is the fact that we are not doing anything. It is all you.

Dad and I have tried to open ourselves to your spirit and let you guide us in completing your work. This has brought us an amazing sense of peace and has spread to so many others. Spread like wildfire! Friends and strangers who have helped us by carrying out good deeds in your name have shared similar feelings with us. Powerful feelings of your presence, guidance and approval as missions were being done in your name. So many lives touched. Another Christmas miracle.

As much as I don’t want it to be, I must admit, this has been quite a Christmas journey you’ve led us on. Giving to others, spreading love through action, reaching out to help others in need. Sure, Dad came up with the idea, but you have led us every step of the way. You’ve been hanging out at tree farms, sending us nativity scene signs, inspiring an entire school community of students, teachers and parents to spread holiday cheer to other children. You even had Dad and I singing “Dominic the Donkey” and other carols with roomfuls of children. The words were coming out of my mouth and I was tapping out the beat of the songs before I even realized it. Your spirit was surely at work.

Oh Joe, Dad and I have been on this roller coaster of emotion. We’ve experienced these highs after feeling your presence during our missions. These have been followed by so many low times, almost like sucker punches to the gut, reminding us you are physically gone, that it’s not all a bad dream. On Christmas Eve, I felt the lowest I have since the day you earned your angel wings. I just didn’t get it. You had been ever so carefully and gently guiding me through this journey of grief, slowly opening my heart, showing me the way, until that night. You left me alone… or so I thought…

As much as we love the family, Dad and I decided it was too difficult to be around everyone this year without you. You’ve made your desire for us to celebrate Christmas abundantly clear through all your Christmas-related signs, but we just couldn’t do it. We just wanted to get away and spend Christmas somewhere new, somewhere away from all of our memories with you. We were planning to book a place on the Cape, but then a friend provided us with the perfect opportunity for our grand escape. She offered us her family’s vacation home on a beautiful resort in the Poconos, and we gratefully accepted. I was initially so excited to get away and try to get through the holiday in this beautiful place. As we embarked on this 4.5-hour journey, however, the tears began to fall. Still we drove on, hoping to find peace in our grand destination. My tears fell faster and faster as each mile passed. My longing for you grew and grew. Finally we reached our destination, but I didn’t feel as I was expecting. The house was gorgeous. The location breathtaking. Everything was perfect. Then the panic set in. I felt more alone and scared and grief-filled than I have since we lost you. So main. The oceans of tears opened.

Dad knew our only option was to jump back in the car and follow that same 4.5-hour path back. I can’t explain how terrible I felt, how embarrassed I was for letting my emotions take over, or how much I long to be with you. As dad drove, my heavy heart began feeling some relief. At one point we both realized we hadn’t eaten for hours. The problem: we were in the middle of nowhere and it was getting late on Christmas Eve. What would be open? IHOP? Closed. Arby’s? Empty. Stewart Airport Diner? Open. Warm. Welcoming. This is where we would have dinner on Christmas Eve.

As we approached the door, my tears had stopped and Dad and I looked at each other and just laughed and laughed. We were exhausted, emotionally drained and had your infant brother in tow. We’d never taken him to a restaurant with us before. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, on Christmas Eve, and we were taking Jack into his first dining experience at none other than a truck stop diner. We laughed some more.

As we sat and ordered our meals, the laughter continued. That beautiful home in the Poconos should have been the place to spark this peace, this laughter, but it wasn’t. Instead, we found our peace in that little diner. In the middle of nowhere. The waitress came over and talked to us like everything was great and normal. She didn’t comment on our disheveled appearance or tear-stained faces. She didn’t seem to notice our broken hearts. She just engaged us in conversation, cooed at baby Jack and smiled. We spent about an hour in that diner in the middle of nowhere,on Christmas Eve with your baby brother in tow. We chatted. We laughed.

As if you were right there, guiding my hand, I reached into my purse and pulled out your mission card. I knew right then what to do. This waitress was going to get a big tip. It wasn’t about money. Your mission has always been so much more than that.

We didn’t sneak away this time and leave your card in secret. We handed the kind-hearted waitress your mission card with the her tip. She looked at us in surprise so we told her it was a gift from you. We sat for another 15 minutes or so and told her all the details of your story. As I bounced Jack in my arms, Dad and I recounted your legacy to this wonderful woman. She shared stories about the three young children she had at home. Three beautiful girls who were missing their mama on Christmas Eve. Our tip would make Christmas a little merrier for those three beautiful girls. It was the least we could do because their mama gave us the comfort, the laughter, the smile we needed so very much.

Dad and I walked out of that diner and laughed. Before the door was even able to shut behind us, I felt your presence. I could almost envision you giving me a high five. I looked back through the frost-covered window of the restaurant, and time seemed to stop. The waitress was at the bar with a group of people around her. She was showing them your mission card and smiling. She was passing on your legacy. I guess our long drive to that beautiful house in the Poconos wasn’t a wasted trip after all. We were right where we were meant to be… in a diner… in the middle of nowhere… on Christmas Eve.

As dad drove back home, I shared this story with the friend who had so generously lent us her beautiful vacation home. I felt terrible that we were not able to find peace there. I wanted her to know this silver lining of the story. I woke up this morning to the following text from her: “I shared your message with the kids this morning before we opened gifts from Santa. What a special Christmas story and message. If Jesus was born in a barn then why not spend Christmas Eve in a humble truck stop spreading love?”

So much for avoiding Christmas this year! Thank you for guiding me, Joe, and helping me find your message in the most unlikely of all places. Merry Christmas, my love. My heart and my soul forever. We promise to spread your Christmas message throughout the entire year. It doesn’t end here.

Originally published: December 26, 2015
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