Most memorable Christmas – a bittersweet goodbye

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By Cam Smoak

I could write about happy light-filled childhood memories, or the thrill of coming home to a decorated house after a tough semester of college (like in the Folger’s commercial), or even the many Christmases spent in Italy learning new traditions during the holidays.  But by far, my most memorable Christmas was last year when our sweet Grandmother, Marie Ponder, passed away.

Christmas 2016 was to be a milestone Christmas for my family in Madison.  We were to celebrate the arrival of two new grandchildren (Annabelle Smoak, and Gunnar Ivester), and it was the first time that all three of my parents’ children were to be reunited for Christmas in many years.  My brother, Chris Smoak (a Special Ops pilot in the US Airforce), was home from a recent deployment, and I was able to make the long journey across the Atlantic from Europe so that we could join Ashley Smoak, our sister, under our parents’ roof.

Unfortunately, our Grandmomma had been ill with Alzheimer’s for years. With each passing month she would recognize fewer and fewer people.  My Mom poured love onto her, visiting her daily and taking care to make sure she was always dressed nicely, that her hair was combed, and that she was surrounded by important objects and pictures that connected her with her past.

On Christmas Eve I rode with my parents to visit Grandmomma Ponder and wish her a Merry Christmas.  We sat and talked to her and visited, even though she wasn’t responsive at all.  We told her that Chris would be landing soon at Hartsfield airport, and how happy we were that we’d all be together for Christmas the next day.  We also told her about our joy for her new great-grandchildren who would be celebrating their first Christmases.  We hugged and loved on her as we said goodbye, but it was hard to tell if she even knew we were there.

How wrong I was to doubt!  Just hours later, early in the morning on December 25, 2016, “sweet Marie” passed away peacefully in her sleep.  Now I know that she was with us the whole time we visited on Christmas Eve, and that she was listening intently.  She had simply waited for the whole family to be united happily in Madison before she laid her soul down to rest.  She had said her final Goodbye.

It was the most bittersweet Christmas morning you could ever imagine:  smiles overlain with tears, and all wrapped-up in that spiritual wonder which defines the Christmas spirit.

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