The song “The Christmas Shoes” recounts the events experienced by a narrator completing the last of his gift-shopping on Christmas Eve.

In the checkout aisle, a young boy is ahead of him, wishing to purchase a pair of expensive shoes for his terminally ill mother, explaining to the cashier that he hasn’t much time remaining before she finally succumbs to the undisclosed illness and that he wants her to appear presentable before Jesus. However, he lacks enough money to pay for the shoes.

The narrator ends up paying for the shoes, to the boy’s delight.

The song closes on the note that the experience has permanently changed the narrator, reflecting on the true meaning of the Christmas season.

We all have a song that brings us to tears. Often I can hear a song over and over again, before I actually hear it. My granddaughters laugh when I say ‘did you hear that song’. The radio is on and music seems to be playing everywhere. I can share with you the first day I heard the song ‘The Christmas Shoes’. It was released for the Christmas season 2000. Our foster son Joshua had an amazing way of connecting to those who knew him, although non-verbal and so dependent upon others for all activities of daily living. Joshua was now living with a hospital grade infection and on the highest antibiotic of the drug chain. The doctors shared with us that he would not see Christmas.

I walked into Joshua’s bedroom that late fall day and this song was playing on the radio and Joshua was listening intently. He had not been able to wear shoes for several years now. His feet had become too stiff and it served no purpose to struggle. I too listened as the lyrics were sung. The song seemed to be on the radio so often that day and each time I heard it, I paused and tears ran down my cheek. I knew it had been a blessing to have Joshua in our lives these past 14 years and I knew it was getting time for him to leave.

One of his home-care nurses came to provide some relief that afternoon and almost her first words were ‘did you hear that new song, the Christmas Shoes’? She said she thought Joshua liked the song and could resonate with it. How did Joshua have this communication with those he knew? Often his support nurses would share something with me that they thought Joshua wanted me to know. “Did you know about the new Disney movie coming out”, they would ask.

His collection contained every Disney movie. He would sit or lie and listen and listen as the story unfolded. Often we would cuddle on his bed and I would snooze and when I would wake, I knew exactly where the movie was, having seen it so often.  The movie, The Christmas Shoes, was released the following year. Joshua wasn’t physically with us that year, but each time I heard the song, I stopped and remembered a child who never walked, yet gave so much love to all he knew. Sometimes tears came and sometimes not.

I walked into a store a year ago, and right at the door was a video stand – top shelf, right in front was the dvd – The Christmas Shoes. I told my granddaughter, I don’t even have to buy that video to start to cry. I know why it is there. We ended up buying it and I watched it later that season, with fond memories and tears running down my cheeks.

Songs are but one way that our family members remind us of their love. For myself and I know for many of you, they are blessings yet can make us stop the car at the side of the road and reflect on lives forever changed; on the good times we shared, the happy things we did together, perhaps a time we were frustrated with each other, or even the time they fell and broke their collar bone. All these memories are in our diary. Whether you are a writer or keep these things in your heart, they are a part of who we are.

Christmas seems one season of the year when we all struggle. The world is talking about ‘good will’ and give, give, give and shop, shop, shop. We aren’t sure how we want to participate. We know this season of Christmas will never be the same. But if we truly reflect, we can realize that in fact no two Christmases were actually the same. Oh yes, we may have had some of the same traditions, and those should be valued, but were they actually the same? When I wondered how our family would make it through the first Christmas after Tim died and then five years later when Joshua died, that was my coping mechanism, to realize that while we had family traditions, each Christmas we had shared as a family was indeed different.

I invite you to share how you celebrate this time of year: perhaps how you celebrate a memory of a family member no longer living, perhaps how you reflect on lives forever changed. Our family has developed several new traditions. We buy a Christmas tree ornament for our granddaughters and we give it to them on Christmas Eve. They are told these treasures will be part of their lives to take forward and will help them to remember Tim and Joshua. The true meaning for Christmas in our family is the sharing of love and time. It always was and I hope it will always be. I imagine we are not alone – many of you share the same vision.

Shirley Hickman
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