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My Greatest Gift

I sat on Christmas morning in the silence of a new day. Just two years ago, it would have been the calm before the storm, but now it is just quiet – quiet, loneliness. The world has gone back to its usual routine, leaving us behind, forgetting that nothing is normal for us anymore, especially not at the holidays.

The holidays used to be filled with joy and the anticipation of fun times with our children, family and friends. But when you lose a child that delight in the season goes away. The planning and expectations are now about how you will get through the next two weeks.

I tried to make the holidays feel a bit like “normal” this year, returning to our usual traditions, the things I gave up last year in my grief. We still did not decorate as in years past, just a small live tree with a few choice ornaments. This year however, I decided to bake cookies again, something I have done ever since I was a little girl.

I was able to make all the old recipes without a tear, until it was time to make pizzelle. Pizzelle were Julia’s favorite Christmas cookie. As I placed the batter on the heated griddle and closed the hot iron, my mind wandered. I closed my eyes, tears streaming down my checks. Two years ago Julia was beside me, sneaking a warm pizzelle off of the tray where they cooled. If only she was here beside me, learning to make these cookies the way I learned to make them with my mother. These cookies will never taste the same, their sweetness forever ruined, bittered by this sorrow.

I have tried this year to make it perfect, returning to the old routines, the old traditions. But it’s not possible. I had nine perfect Christmases – they won’t be perfect again. They won’t be normal. They will just be there.

The sorrow continued on Christmas morning. I was just going through the motions, hoping that time would speed up. The days after Christmas I kept to myself – even though I went out, I wasn’t completely there. And when I was home, I stayed away from social media and phone calls. I couldn’t share in others joy. What did I have to be happy about? I have nothing to celebrate since Julia is gone. Is this the new normal?

I worried that I lost the greatest gift that Julia ever gave to me – optimism. And the days moved so slowly.

And now I sit here eight days later on New Year’s Day. The sun is shining. It is a cold, clear winter’s day. It’s a new year and yes, it is another new year without my “best girl”, my Julia.

It will never be the same, but again I turn to the past and our traditions. With the start of a new year, like many, we look back on the past year and what was good, giving thanks, and then think of the future year and what we plan to do better.

So I think of this last year, the first full new year without Julia. I think of all the friends, old and new, that have helped us get through this year and I am grateful. I think of everyone that has helped us grow Julia’s Grace Foundation; keeping Julia’s dreams alive and I am strengthened. I think of the children and families that Julia’s Foundation has helped and I smile.

And I think of Julia. In all the heartache this past year, I think of Julia and I smile. I think of her list and how unselfish she was. I think of her strength, her absolute love of life and her compassion. I think of her wise advice.

How many times during this last year have I had lunch with friends or ate waffles and ice cream with my family? At times, I thought we would never be happy again, that we were broken. Then, I watch a funny movie with James or sit with John and Amanda, listening to music, or hold hands with John thinking, talking about our children. We will never be the same. We are definitely scarred, but thanks to our little girl, thanks to Julia, we remember what is important and we know what to do to be happy. She showed us how to get through this pain and how to live.

So I look to this new year, grateful that I have not lost Julia’s optimism, her greatest gift. And I make my resolution to look to this new year, to tomorrow, with the smile.

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