We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cosy A-frame cabin.
It looked the same as it always did: picturesque, peaceful, pretty.
But it felt different.
I knew the others felt it too.
I looked harder, taking in the details and trying to pin point the reason for the feeling.
The lights were up on the eaves. The tree is in the front bay window all lit up.
The wreath hung on the red door.
The little birds gathered around the feeder. The squirrels dashed light footed across the top of the blanket of snow.
Everything sparkled, covered in white.
The silence in the car was deeper than the quiet outside.
Things were unpacked from the car and put away.
Bags in rooms.
Brightly coloured gifts under the tree.
The cabin seemed to echo in a way I didn’t remember it doing before.
My husband wore a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes. He pated my shoulder as he headed to stoke the fire the custodian lit for us earlier.
The familiar old cabin felt strange and foreign.
Open and empty.
I drifted around the rooms looking for what has made our annual holiday refuge feel so alien.
I find. Nothing.
I find myself in the kitchen, normally warm and inviting.
It felt cold and sterile.
It was missing something.
With a deep sigh, I went about all my normal routines.
Boil water for a cup of tea.
Heat the oven to bake our favourite sweet biscuits, cut in the shape of Christmas trees with the cookie cutter from the top draw, where it always was.
I mixed the ingredients.
On the shelves where they always are.
Taking the tray and liner from the cupboard I prepared it ready for the biscuits.
They were where they always were.
I took the rolling pin from its cute novelty Christmas holder.
Where it always is.
I let the task wash over me without having to think. I didn’t have to be present.
Something is missing.
Standing at the sink, washing away the flour from my fingers, I looked up.
The window frames perfectly a twin swing set.
My son swings on one side.
Dragging his toes through the snow.
It sounds wrong.
It’s missing something.
The empty swing beside my boy moves a little in a breeze and I picture him sitting on that swing.
Wet trickles down my cheeks.
Drops mix with the running water.
My vision blurrs and I can’t see him or the empty swing any more.
Strong hands guide me to a wooden chair.
In silence, they dry my hands with a tea towel.
Then they dry my tears.
Small hands, so familiar. I’m so used to holding them wrapped in mine.
Now, the little fingers, so sure of themselves, wrap my fingers around a fragrant cup of tea.
A little voice whispers “We miss him too.”
I know what’s feels different.
And I know what’s missing.
Yet so big.
The cabin seems to echo because there should be more than one little voice.
There should have been more luggage.
There should have been more brightly coloured wrapping.
There should have been more noise.
There should have been another occupied swing.
There should have been sons. Not just son.
I know it won’t ever feel the same again.
It will always be different.
Until that difference begins to feel familiar, I will take comfort in those big strong hands, those soft little hands.
And memories of you.
December 7th 2003, Daniel Morcombe was abducted while waiting for the bus to go Christmas shopping for his family. He is survived by his mother, father and twin brother.
His parents, Denise and Bruce Morcombe in the 19 years since his passing have done a lot of work in our schools and communities about child safety because they wanted to help prevent other families suffering the same losses.
This story is inspired by the strength the Morcombe family has always shown.
At a time when we seem to increasingly be losing touch with what is really valuable, I want to send a timely reminder.
It’s not the fancy tree. It’s not the decorations. It’s not the lights, the food, the location, the expense or gifts that matter.
Please stop a moment, peel away all the commercialisation of Christmas and remember: it’s our loved ones that make the day.
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