When I was a young child, my parents had some dear friends whose first child was born extremely premature. I will always remember my dad picking me up from school and telling me our dear friend's baby girl was in intensive care at a hospital. This tiny baby girl lived 19 short hours before she passed away.
Days later, I sat on the grieving mother's lap in our family dining room, hours after her baby's graveside services. The mother, Christine, wrote her baby's three long names on a piece of paper to help me remember. I kept the paper for years.
That first Christmas season following the baby's death, I remember hearing the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" playing in the car while driving home from a church party on a dark December night.
Being a young, 7-year-old girl, hearing the words "Bless all thy dear children in thy tender care," I immediately associated it with my recent introduction to the term "intensive care."
As a result of my childish interpretation, that the song meant, "Bless all thy dear children in intensive care." I thought of babies laying in intensive care and, subsequently, my mother's now childless friend.
Through the next few years, we kept in close contact with these friends. Even when they went on to have two healthy children, I still thought about babies in intensive care and specifically our friend, Christine, every time I heard "Away in a Manger."
Years passed. Christine's family lived in a different city and my family lived in a different country. We lost direct contact with these friends and for years, the only news we heard of them was "through the grapevine."
Regardless of the miles and years that separated us from these friends, I thought about this dear lady every Christmas season when "Away in a Manger" would play. Whether singing along in a church meeting, listening to it sung in a concert or even as background radio music, my thoughts always turned to the baby born too soon years ago, leaving a heart-broken mother.
A little over three years ago, through the wonders of modern technology, I reconnected via Facebook with this dear friend. Though our lives had clearly taken different paths and had little in common, this friend sent me the occasional kind message and sincere compliment. I treasured each one.
As the following Christmas season came, my thoughts again turned to Christine, as refrains of "Away in a Manger" played throughout the season. I thought of her with renewed love as our lives had now been reconnected.
On Christmas Day 2009, also the anniversary of her husband's death, Christine wrote a heartfelt and tender blog post about him. She expressed sorrow as she wrote of her husband's supposed disappointment of her current life and choices.
Touched by the poignancy of her post, I felt prompted to respond to her. I felt prompted to share with her my memories of her and her family, that had tenderly crept into every Christmas season for me for almost three decades. Feeling unsure exactly what to say or how to say it, I ignored the prompting I felt.
As that Christmas evening drew to a close, despite the celebrations and excitement of my five young children on Christmas Day, I couldn't get rid of the nagging feeling to share my memories with Christine. Knowing Christmas Day had now passed in her part of the world and having no other way to contact her, I sat at my computer and sent Christine a Facebook message.
Less than four months later, Christine unexpectedly and very suddenly passed away. I spent the day crying for her two young adult children now left parentless. I cried thinking of the joyous reunion that I believe took place between her and her beloved husband and daughter. I shed tears of gratitude for the sweet promptings I had chosen to heed on the previous Christmas night.
Three years have passed since the late Christmas Day message I sent and now another Christmas season has arrived. I've heard "Away in a Manger" numerous times already this year, and as I have for 30-plus years, I think of Christine and babies in intensive care every time.
Now, in addition to those decades of memories surrounding my favorite Christmas song, I think of the humble reminder of how important it is to share our love, thoughts and feelings with others before it is too late.
This Christmas is as good a time as any to do it.
Tiffany is a mother of five children. She loves the laundry five children generate, but could do without the sticky floors. Tiffany blogs at www.ourmostofthetimehappyfamily.blogspot.com