I met Darlene through a comment she left on my web page about "A Gift for Henry". I came to find out that she had lost her husband, Steve, due to congestive heart failure and that he had died in her arms a few years ago. Knowing this I could only imagine how painful this time of year must be for her and wanted to do something to let her know that God sees her hurt and pain and that He cares. Three wishes is God's special gift to Darlene this Christmas
Darlene regarded the Christmas decorations in her local grocery store glumly. She hated this time of year. Absolutely hated it! All it did was accentuate the sadness that she always carried in her heart like a heavy lead balloon. As a kid she had enjoyed the holidays as much as anyone else but all that had changed three years ago when her husband, Steve, had died in her arms of heart failure. She sighed, fighting back the tears that welled up in her eyes and threatened to spill down her cheeks. She wasn’t going to cry in the check-out line! Not in front of all these strangers!
The box boy stuffed the last of her groceries into the bag and Darlene hurried out, her head down, her shoulders beginning to shake. She got into her car, her hands trembling with the grief she tried to suppress and yet couldn’t. She let her head drop onto the steering wheel and allowed the tears to come. She missed him. She couldn’t help it. Even after a few years, there was still a big hole in her heart that just wouldn’t heal.
Oh, Stevie…she thought to herself, not for the last time. If only we had had more time together…if only your heart hadn’t been sick…if only…
Darlene violently brushed the tears from her cheeks and started the car. She didn’t want to go down that road again. She had to get home, unload the groceries alone without help and get some dinner for herself. The very idea depressed her beyond belief.
She turned the key in the ignition and maneuvered out of the parking lot. She made to turn right, but the car suddenly had other ideas. It turned left. It shocked her so much she just gaped. Then the gas pedal depressed itself and the car began speeding up and driving itself. Darlene sat back and watched in shock as the car continued to steer, turning down streets she was unfamiliar with, stopping and starting without assistance from her, wondering where on earth her car was taking her and why. For some reason she felt no panic but a few times she caught the shocked glances of people in other cars as she half-heartedly smiled and waved at them as her car turned a corner without her assistance. Once or twice she gripped the steering wheel and tried to steer the way she wanted and to brake but the car was completely unresponsive. Why fight it? She thought to herself and sat back to watch what would happen. A half hour passed, then 45 minutes and the car was on the main highway heading north. Before she knew it, she had nodded off to sleep.
She awoke when the car came to a stop, not remembering what had happened and wondering if she was asleep, dreaming she was awake. She looked around and found herself and her car in a tiny parking lot in front of a little cottage, brightly lit with cheerful Christmas lights and a wreath on the door. There was nothing else in site. She got out of the car feeling stiff from her unexpected nap. She went up to the door of the cottage which was bright red, and knocked. Hopefully whoever lived her would let her use the phone or give her directions on how to get back home before the milk spoiled. She knocked twice.
“Come in, Darlene!” said a voice that made her heart skip a beat. A voice she had not heard in years but a voice that was dearly beloved and familiar all the same.
Heart pounding, she walked into the little cottage. There was a fireplace with a cheery fire crackling away, a Christmas tree with ornaments that looked strangely familiar and her favorite Christmas music playing on the stereo that she hadn’t played in years because it had hurt too much to listen to it.
“Welcome, home, sweetheart!” said the voice again and Darlene felt arms wrapping around her like a warm cocoon.
“Stevie?” she sobbed, turning around to face what must surely be a dream or a ghost. “Is it really you?”
“Yes, dear,” he responded with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry we had to bring you here the way we did and that it took so long but I hope the memory we make will be worth it to you.”
“We? Memory?” Darlene repeated, completely bewildered. She stepped back out of Steve’s arms for a moment and rubbed her eyes, unable to believe she was seeing what she was seeing. Steve stepped forward again and gently took her hands into his.
“I’m sorry I have ruined the holidays for you.” He said, he eyes truly sorrowful. “I didn’t want to leave you at all, you know, but my heart wasn’t made to last as long as everyone else’s. Can you forgive me?”
“It’s just that I miss you so much.” Darlene said, the tears spilling down again. “I have wished so often that I could just have you with me just one more time, just a little bit longer…”
Steve took her face gently into his hands and smiled at her. “Wish granted.” He whispered and embraced her again. This time Darlene did not pull away. She melted into his embrace and allowed herself the luxury of breathing in the scent of his hair and his clothes without all the medicine smells that he had used to carry later in life when his heart began to fail. After a few moments, Steve parted them with a smile and reached for one of the grocery bags.
“Here, let me help you with that.” He said, hefting it up easily.
“No! I’ll get it!” Darlene protested, falling back into the routine of doing most of the lifting herself because of his weak heart.
“Not necessary!” Steve said, grabbing both effortlessly. “No more bad heart!” He led her into the tiny but charming kitchen and took the groceries out one at a time. Instead of the dull, boring regular items she always got, she stared in amazement as Steve pulled out their favorite beverages, foods, and treats they used to share one at a time. It was a gourmet feast and it was already prepared and hot.
Together they sat down at the table where candlelight glowed and ate and talked for hours. Then they cuddled up onto the couch together in front of the fire and the tree, listening to soft Christmas music together.
“I don’t want this moment to end.” Darlene said at last, knowing the moment for her departure was approaching soon. Steve laid a gentle kiss on her forehead and held her close.
“Do you remember our last moments together?” he whispered. Darlene choked on her sobs, the raw wound opening up again.
“Of course I do! How could I ever forget a moment like that?” she said, her heart aching. Steve held her closer and looked deeply into her eyes, his face serious.
“Darlene, I always knew I would not live very long and have a normal life span. I also knew it would be unfair to whoever I married and my kids because of it but I was selfish asked God to grant me three wishes: 1) That I would be able to marry the woman I love, 2) that I could be a father (no matter how they turned out), and 3)…” Steve paused, his own eyes filling with tears.
“Three?” repeated Darlene, wondering what it could be. Steve sighed deeply and held her closer.
“…that when it was finally my time to leave this earth and go to heaven, I would die in the arms of the person who loved me best in this life…You.
“God gave me all three of my wishes and now He has granted this one for you. He has given you one more memory…a little more time…just a taste of the joy of our being reunited in heaven so you can still go on with your life in this world and grieve a little bit less, knowing how well I loved you and how I still love you and that I’m waiting for you. The time is growing short when we will be together again forever but until that day comes, I want you to live each day knowing that I’m still loving you and caring about you. Try to find joy again in the little things again and I’ll be right there, sharing it with you. Can you do that for me?”
“I’ll try.” Darlene smiled weakly, wishing she could stay in that little cottage with him forever.
“Now lay your head on my shoulder and go to sleep,” said Steve, holding her close. “And when you wake you’ll be back to your regular life but remember that you always carry my love and my heart inside your own.”
“Okay,” whispered Darlene, clutching him tightly. “I’ll remember. I promise.”
“That’s my girl,” Steve smiled, caressing her head until she fell asleep.
Darlene awoke with a start and looked around her. The cottage was gone and so were the tree, fireplace and Steve. She was back in her little home but there on the table was the most beautiful arrangement of snow-white and deep red flowers she had ever seen. She picked up the tiny envelope and withdrew the little card that had Steve’s handwriting on it and instead of crying…she smiled.