It’s not often that Hallmark surprises me. Delights me, sure! But not surprises me. This is a first, and I’m delighted by the surprise. It came by way of this year’s premier of Two Turtle Doves, staring Nikki DeLoach and Michael Rady and written by Sarah Montana. In all the years I’ve been watching, I have yet to see Hallmark tackle the issue of grief at the holidays. We’ve met leading characters who are widows or who have suffered some loss as a backdrop to their story, but the story has never centered on the complex layers and mix of emotions that surface while grieving in the midst of a joy-filled season replete with memories. Until the premier of Two Turtle Doves.
This blog does not review movies, although if it did, this one would get high marks. Instead, this blog relates Hallmark to real life, my Real Life, and because watching this movie touched a deep part of my soul, I thought I would share why.
Although I look for the good in all things and I choose Hallmark moments to try to recreate, that doesn’t mean in Real Life that every day is happy or without challenges. When I began this Hallmark journey, I shared in one of my earlier posts (The Mistletoe Inn… In Real Life) that I’ve been working on a memoir about losing both of my parents within two years of one another in high school. This time was incredibly difficult, to say the least, so seeing Hallmark dive into grief during the holidays with this film touched a very real chord in me.
It also highlighted, however, that in the midst of sadness, there is also joy and new memories to be made. I want to take this opportunity to share one of mine, highlighting the kindness of a friend who appeared when I least expected it.
The first Christmas without Mom, we bought a real tree. Dad, my brother, Roger, and I had always wanted a real one, but Mom could never handle the mess, so while we’d rather have had her with us, we settled for a tree. It didn’t change the fact that she was gone. It didn’t change the fact that it didn’t feel like Christmas without her. It did start a new tradition, though: no more artificial trees for me ever again.
Roger and I tried to bring Mom’s spirit to the holiday, but there was nothing to celebrate this year. It was as if everything had lost its sparkle. The red bows that were always magically tied to our tree while we were at school never appeared. The red poinsettias were not bountiful as they usually were, and the holly was missing from the banister railing.
We also didn’t hold our annual Christmas Eve party. That afternoon, our house, usually buzzing with preparations for the party, was silent. No hum of activity, no sparkle of enthusiasm. Nothing. We were all sitting in separate rooms, engulfed in silence, surrounded by sadness, counting down the time when we’d go to church followed by a quiet dinner.
The silence was interrupted by an unexpected knock at the door. My friend Vince, home from college, showed up. I’m not sure how he was able to escape from his own family, but when he arrived at our house, Dad answered the door and spoke with him in hushed tones. I popped my head around the door, surprised to find my friend there and Dad explained that Vince had invited Roger and me out, and we should grab our coats. I was so shocked that Dad thought it was a good idea for us to leave him, leave the house, on Christmas Eve that it took a minute for the information to register. We had never left the house on Christmas Eve before, as we’d always been the ones hosting the party . . . but I guess this wasn’t like other years.
On the way to the car, still in shock, I looked at Vince. “How did you do that?”
“Do what?” he asked, like what he’d just done was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Get my Dad to let us out of the house on Christmas Eve!”
Shrugging like it was nothing, Vince said, “I figured your Dad could use a little time and you might need some air.”
I just looked at him, unable to believe that he had thought of us on one of the worst days of our lives. While everyone else was celebrating the holiday with their family, he thought of Rog, Dad, and me, knowing there was no celebration at our house, that it was our first Christmas without her. As I opened the door to get into the car, I asked, “Don’t you have to be with your family?”
Laughing, Vince said, “Don’t worry. We start later. I’ll be home for seven fishes. It’s just a little jailbreak.”
I smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“No worries. I thought you could use some air.”
“You have no idea.”
As an eighth grader unaccustomed to having an older friend with a car, Roger jumped into the back seat, excited, and asked, “Where are we going?”
I hadn’t even considered that Vince had a plan. I thought we’d just drive around town when he said, “I thought we’d try ice skating.”
“Cool!” Roger yelped.
Neither Roger nor I had ever ice skated. I’m not even sure Vince had skated before that day, but that didn’t matter. He was determined to break up our monotonous sadness. So that afternoon, one by one, we all tried to stand on our skates and move forward, and in varying intervals, we each fell down on our butt.
Watching a linebacker-sized teenager tumbling to the ice with a large “oomph” and gales of laughter helped achieve the impossible on that day: real smiles and laughter from Roger and me. Whether he tumbled on purpose for our benefit or his clumsiness was real, we’ll never know, but gregarious, generous Vince found a way to bring some joy to an otherwise very tough day.
To this day, 27 years later, when Roger and I recall that first Christmas without mom, the memory of Vince falling down on his butt while ice skating is what we both begin with, and we always share a smile and laugh. Yes, of course that Christmas was difficult, but making new memories—starting with my kind friend Vince—is what has helped us move forward. For anyone feeling grief this holiday, I hope you, too, will find a glimmer of joy along the way that you can turn into a new, cherished memory.