We had Christmas without her this year. But even in her absence, she found a way to be present. The story of the special gifts she left behind.

Christmas without her: how a beloved aunt still gave

Ruthie Gray Christian living, encouragement Leave a Comment

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We had Christmas without her this year. But even in her absence, she found a way to be present. The story of the special gifts she left behind.

Photo credit: ©Depositphotos.com/lubavnel

We spent Christmas without her this year.

You know that fun aunt that always gave you hugs and said, “I love you”?

The one who kept you for sleepovers, played games with you, doted on you, and thought of special gifts each Christmas and birthday?

Or perhaps she was a beloved sister-in-law, a special aunt to your own children, one you could count on for anything, even if it was to care for your little ones while you went on a trip across country with your husband.


Christmas without her

She was sorely missed.

A beloved wife and mother of 5 boys.  A victim of breast and bone cancer, she passed away at age 45, just two months before Christmas, October, 2013.  Her name was Shanda.

Knowing it would be very different Christmas without her, we sought to bolster one another’s spirits in different ways using humor, a warm hug, or a spoken word of comfort.

But she had her own way of showing us she cared this Christmas.

A Christmas discovery

In early December, her husband (my husband’s youngest brother Michael), found some Christmas gifts underneath their bed with a note.

“Michael, these are for the girls.  You will have to figure out something for the boys.”

Somehow, she found the time and energy earlier in the year to go Christmas shopping for each of her nieces – my 3 daughters, and 2 of our nieces.

His words, “She must have known she wasn’t going to be around this Christmas.”

A butterfly memory

A few months prior to her passing, she told one of her sons, “Whenever you see a butterfly, think of me.”  Ever since then, the image of a butterfly has carried more significance for us all.

Christmas day came and packages were passed around.  Each niece’s gift bag bore a blue Vera Bradley purse of a different shape and size…with butterflies imprinted on it.

Here’s where it gets even more special.

Amidst discovering the gifts underneath the bed and readying his own family for Christmas, Uncle Michael hadn’t thought to look inside those purses.

It’s a girl’s natural tendency to look inside a purse to discover its contents, however, and Aunt Shanda knew her nieces.

And upon opening those purses, to Uncle Michael’s surprise and their delight, each one contained a bracelet of a different color.  All were her personal treasures that she had worn.

The message was clear:  “Don’t forget me.  And don’t forget that I loved you very, very much.”

Misty eyed?  You bet we were.

Surprised?  Absolutely.

Thankful?  Beyond words.

Because this very special aunt had thought of Christmas way before any of us had even entered the stores with gifts in mind.  She was ahead of all of us this year.

Inside each gift was a special, personal surprise. She was saying, 'Don't forget me.' Click To Tweet

A legacy of hope

Ahead of us in more ways than one.

She knew where she would be spending this Christmas.  I’ll bet she had the most special Christmas of all, because she believed in the One for Whom we celebrate this special season.

The reason we can celebrate, the reason we know that someday we can all be together again to celebrate not only Christ’s birth, but His death and resurrection.

Her legacy kept on giving. And so can mine, and so can your's. Click To Tweet

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” ~John 1:14

Aunt Shanda lives on – not in this world, but with Christ in the next, where things are far better than we can even imagine here on this earth.

We love you, Aunt Shanda, and we will never forget you.

From now on, Christmas without you will never be the same.

But we will see you again someday, never more to part.



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Thanks, and may you experience Christ’s presence in the little things this season.




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