At the time, my husband, Ben, and I thought it was our worst holiday ever. Only years later did I realize how wonderful that Christmas season was.
My brother-in-law called the Sunday before Christmas. "Ben needs to get to the hospital; Dad doesn't have long" His voice was urgent. Both our babies had colds, so Ben went without me, and I stayed home.
Seven of the nine siblings were able to say goodbye to their dad. Ben was one of them. The eighth arrived moments too late. The ninth's family was stationed across the country, so he was unable to be present. They planned the funeral to be held in the next state over, the state of their father's birth. So, we traveled by caravan with my husband's family to bury my father-in-law.
At the funeral
My husband was a pallbearer, along with his five brothers. They sat in a different section from the family. My job was to keep our 1-year-old and newborn content, even though their colds had worsened.
That's when my 1-year-old, Anna, saw her cousin eating cereal out of a yellow, doughnut-shaped dispenser. With the unreasonableness of a 1-year-old who was not feeling well, she screamed for that container. Anna screamed so loud that she kept the service from starting.
I didn't know what to do. I wanted to take her out of the church, but no one was able to hold my newborn, Katy. My sisters-in-law had little ones, too.
My child's tantrum
My mother-in-law turned around in her seat and offered to hold my newborn. Mortified, yet desperate, I handed Katy to her and immediately took my screamer out of the church. As we walked to the car, we both cried.
Once inside the car, Anna returned to the sweet little girl I knew. When my tears had expired, I was torn. I felt the need to get back to the church to attend my Katy and pay my respects to my father-in-law, but I didn't want Anna to have a relapse when we re-entered the church.
We returned to the service 20 minutes later. My newborn was three rows back from my mother-in-law, held by my father-in-law's sister. As quietly as possible, I took her, thanked the woman and returned to my spot in the pew. Both girls behaved for the rest of the service.
The holiday stress, family death and frigid air had done their work on my family. After the funeral, Katy refused to drink fluids and showed other symptoms of getting worse. There were no hospitals in that small town, let alone doctors, so the next morning we left and arrived home by evening. I took both girls to their doctor where he prescribed antibiotics for double ear infections.
We had all survived, but the memory of helplessness haunted me.
What really happened
A few years later, I overheard my mother-in-law telling someone that holding her granddaughter during her husband's funeral was God's way of comforting her. She doesn't know how she would have made it through the service if it hadn't been for that baby.
Her words gave me a sense of comfort I didn't know was possible. God used my predicament, which forced me to relinquish my newborn, to console my mother-in-law. He had used a newborn to bring peace to a dying world.
My memories of that Christmas 15 years ago are still humbling, but they also vibrate with the joy that God constantly uses us to help others, even when we don't realize it.