I woke up this morning and doodled this picture. It has been inside of me for eleven years and I have been afraid that if I tried to draw it, I would mess up and my heart would break again from the memories. I did. I love it. I am on the other side.
Have you ever wondered what Santa’s last stop is after he delivers all of the gifts in his sleigh? This story takes us back in time, to a day that changed my life forever.
Date: Christmastime 2003 – 8 months after the death of my mother
Place: Apex Volunteer Firehouse, Downtown Apex, NC
Setting: Kids taking turns sitting on Santa’s Lap during the Pancake Breakfast
We waited in line on a sunny winter morning after eating at the pancake breakfast. Dylan was in first grade. When it was his turn to sit on Santa’s lap, he climbed up to him and stood beside his chair. Mrs. Clause was there too with her jolly smile. Dylan was very quiet. Santa shared a heartfelt Ho Ho Ho and asked Dylan what he wanted to find under his tree on Christmas morning. Dylan said he really only wanted one thing but it was something that the elves could not make. With curious ears and camera in hand, I listened for his response. Santa told him that the elves were magic and asked Dylan to share his wish. Dylan looked Santa straight in the eye and said, “My Gram died this year and my mom and me are really sad. My mom cries everyday and even though she tries for me to not know, I can hear her. My wish is for you to go to Heaven and ask God to pick her up in Heaven on your sleigh and bring her back for just one day on Christmas. I think God will understand.” Dawson was watching me and clinging to my legs. Santa paused for a long while and then finally spoke. I fought back tears of sadness and overwhelm. What could this man possible say that would make this moment okay for us, would make Dylan’s little heart be able to still believe in the magic (and mine).
And then Santa spoke. This is what he said. “Once people die and go to Heaven, they can not ever come back. Heaven is full of love and the people we miss who are there will be waiting for us when it our turn. If you want to write a letter to your Gram and leave it under your tree, I will pick it up and deliver it. The mailbox to Heaven is my last stop on my way back to the North Pole after I deliver all of the toys.”
I cried (again). Dylan was satisfied. We talked about it for days and discussed Heaven and Jesus and what that mailbox must look like. And the custom began.
We all wrote letters to my mom that year and Santa picked them up. Dylan told her about first grade and his soccer team. Dawson drew a picture. I wrote what could be considered a novel. We still write and leave letters under the tree. Some years just me. Some years others in the family.
Last year I shared this on my FB in a reaction to the Sandy Hook shootings “I think of this today because of the many brothers and sisters, moms and dads of the children killed in Connecticut and the sadness that will be so alive in their hearts every day, especially the magical time of Christmas. Writing the letters helps heal the wounds of the loss of my dear mother. I always think about making this into a child’s book to offer the wise words of the firehouse Santa to others. I think the time has come. I declare that by the end of 2013, I will write and illustrate, Santa’s Last Stop!”
I did not follow through. 2013 and 2014 were filled with life changes for me and my family. We have been in reaction to other’s decisions but I can finally say that I am at peace. I am grounded and ready. 2015 is the year. I will write, illustrate and find an editor to publish my story. I am hoping that Priscilla Burris will help me. I should probably reach out to her. I have just been too, well too timid I guess.
The mailbox for the letters is under the tree in our new Colorado home and ready. It is time for me to write to her and tell her that I am happy, that her grandsons are happy and that life is good. It is time for me to let go of the wish for her return and believe in Santa’s message.
I will never know who the man volunteering his time at the firehouse that day was but will forever be thankful that he was the one there that day. He was an angel. His words transformed the quality of my life forever, a gift I want to share. God is all around me and it is times like this that even in my deepest grief, His light shines through. While Christmas is the story of the birth of Jesus, it is also the story of how Santa spread His peace for me.
Happy Holidays and Love to All,