(photo by me)
This is a non-fiction memoir about a family struggling to find Christmas after Rick (husband and father) passes away before the holiday season. It may not sound like the feel-good Christmas stories we are used to, and it's not, but it's beautiful and hopeful and a must-read.
13 days before Christmas, Joanne and her kids (Megan, Nick, and Ben) start receiving mysterious gifts on their porch, along with a card with the 12 Days of Christmas poem altered to fit the gift. A new gift arrives daily, and along with it, the family begins to heal and reclaim their new Christmas. This is a book about a family struggling to come back to each other after they're unfairly ripped apart.
I found myself tearing up during this book many times, and I thought about it constantly when I wasn't reading it. Who were the mystery gift givers? How is the family doing now? It's a short book with a long-lasting message.
One of the reasons I loved this book so much is because I related to it. I lost my grandma on December 22nd, 2011. My mom, boyfriend (now husband), and I stood by her side as she took her last breath and my whole world collapsed. She'd been sick and in and out of the hospital for months. We knew the time was coming, but nothing can prepare you to watch your grandma leave this earth and your life.
I was always close to my maternal grandparents (my grandpa died almost 10 years ago), always spending at least a week of summer vacation at their house, and a few days at Christmas. They always lived in the same city as me, but my time with them was important to me. My favourite Christmas song is The Little Drummer Boy because my grandma had the song on a record, and would put it on their record player and dance around the kitchen, singing in a fake opera voice. It always made me laugh and will be a memory I never forget. I regret not knowing who that particular record was by, because I'd love to have that specific version of the song.
While I didn't lose my father, I understood what Joanne and her kids were going through. I don't even remember Christmas that year. The time from when she took her last breath to just after the new year is a blur. Christmas has been difficult ever since and always will be, but we've found ways to celebrate each year.
'The 13th Gift' was a beautiful reminder that life is hard and isn't fair at times, and that while it's okay to struggle and stumble, fighting to come out on the other side is worth it. Even if it's the last thing you want to do. New traditions don't replace the old, and people cannot ever be replaced, but there is room to love and celebrate, even after the biggest heart break. This is a book that I will definitely come back to every few years.
While I can't find the specific version of The Little Drummer Boy that my grandma had, I do happen to love this version: