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January 03, 2014 8:26 am

Looking for light during dark times

Written by Tom Lawrence

Every Sunday night, I looked for those lights.

For weeks, there they were, a brave flash of color in the darkest time of year. For some reason, and I’m not sure even now, 19 years later, they meant a lot to me.

Mom died two weeks after Christmas, on Jan. 7, 1995, to be precise. I was living in my hometown of Brookings, S.D., then, and my job gave me the freedom to see her almost every day for the final 13 months of her life. For two Christmases, I strung lights in the window of the room of the care facility where she lived, trying to brighten it and her. And me.

She was just 65, but decades of smoking blended with emphysema had weakened a powerhouse of a woman.

We knew Mom was very ill, so Christmas 1994 was somber. She left the Brookview Manor, where she had been living, and came home to nearby Estelline to spend part of the holiday with Dad, my sister Mary, her husband Kevin, my brother Chad, and me. The other four kids — yeah, we’re a mob, seven of us — called to wish us Merry Christmas.

It was something we wanted to do, an effort to reconnect to treasured family memories, but it was a mistake. She was too weak. Mary and I took her home that night, and our Christmas night ended with us sobbing in the parking lot. We knew what would soon happen.

After she died, I drove to Estelline every weekend. I would spend time with Dad and Chad, and we all tried to sort out our emotions. It was a rough patch.

As the weeks passed, people started taking down their holiday decorations and unplugging lights. But one farmer kept a decorated tree on his lawn burning bright.

As I made that half hour drive back to Brookings, I looked for that tree. Every Sunday in January, it was there. Same thing through February. It glowed even into March, as winter slowly released its icy grip on the land, and the pain lessened in our hearts.

Last year, we lost Dad. He was 92 when he was struck by a massive heart attack on Jan. 13. Doctors told us it would have killed most people immediately, and almost no one would have survived more than a day or two. He endured for more than a month before dying on Feb. 16.

In July 2012, our dear sister Anita passed away following a brave 20-year battle with breast cancer. It’s been a dark time for our family.

Mary, Kevin and I spent Christmas 2012 with Dad at the assisted living facility where he had lived for five years, and we knew then it might be the last time we would spend the holiday with him. But he was in a good mood, glad to be with family.

It was very difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit in the past few weeks. I wasn’t sure how to find it, and my house has been dark.

Then I thought of that farmer and his tree, and drove around a bit to look at lights. I’m glad some people in Powell are keeping their lights up for a while, and look forward to the cheery glow when I head home on a black night.

I also bought a tree and strung lights on it. OK, I hung them in a haphazard manner, but it’s the thought that counts.

And you know what? It lightened my mood. Here’s to a brighter and better 2014.

Happy New Year!

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