Lexi’s Lights: A Christmas Story

Published 12:54 pm Monday, December 25, 2017

Editor’s Note: Each year, local author G. Mark LaFrancis writes an original Christmas Story and shares it first with our readers. Here is this year’s story: “Lexi’s Lights.”

My husband and I hauled the big, blue plastic box from the shed.

Inside were our Christmas tree lights.

Email newsletter signup

Each year when we put them away, we swore we’d arrange them so the next year there would be no tangles or snarls.

As we lifted the lid, he said, “Yup, snarls and tangles again.”

We had a good laugh and began unraveling the strands, plugging them into the wall to learn which lights had made it through the spring, summer and fall.

We had almost finished decorating the tree when I said, “Tree’s not finished without these,”  giving my husband a small strand of lights and a white cross, decorated with sparkles and the words “Believe” written in the cross.

He carefully placed the lights and cross where Lexi would when she was with us.

“Now, we’re done,” I said with a deep sigh. “Lexi would be proud that we kept the ‘tree-dition’.”

I sat back and reflected on how our daughter Lexi started the “treedition” many years ago.

Lexi and I would take a break from our busy schedules — mine as a children’s oncology nurse and hers as an 8-year-old ballerina, soccer player, cheerleader and all that she wanted to be and do.

“Time to visit the children,” I said. “We’ll just be a few minutes.”

“Right, Mom,” Lexi said. “Just a few.”

She knew one stop at the ward meant more than a simple check-in. Lexi never minded; in fact she eagerly visited with the children when parents approved.

“Just stand by the door, Lexi.”

“Yes ma’am,” she would say. “Can I sing a little?”

“Sure, sweetie. I think the children might like to hear your voice.” Indeed, Lexi had a wonderful voice. And her singing seemed to have a nice effect on the children.

Once in a while, parents would mention their children talked about Lexi and how they heard “the singing angel” in their room.

As years went by, Lexi volunteered as a Junior Candy Striper and did a lot more than hum a few songs at the door. She’d sit and read stories to the children. She’d bring them gifts and give them encouragement. At home, she said a prayer for each of them before going to bed.

“Lexi, I’m worried you’re becoming too involved with the children on the ward,” I said one night. “You need to do more with friends your own age.”

She smiled and said, “Really, Mom? I’m doing exactly what I was called to do.”

She patted my hand. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

Actually I was proud of Lexi. The nurses regularly told me that she made their jobs much easier, that she would calm children at shot time, relieve anxieties by telling funny stories, and give them hope.

“She’s got a gift, that Lexi,” said one of my colleagues. “It’s not just a normal gift, but something, well, really special.”

I realized just how special one night after a shift. She had taken a particular interest in one boy, Jacob, who was suffering from leukemia.

When we arrived home, Lexi took me aside.

“I can’t hold it in any longer,” she said with a serious look. “I don’t think Jacob’s going to make it to Christmas.”

“Now, Lexi, the treatments seem to be working and….”

“Mom, listen to me,” she insisted. “I know. I don’t know how I know, but I do.  I’ve just been afraid to say anything.”

I took Lexi’s hands and told her, “I always thought you had a gift …”

“Mom, I feel what’s going to happen to them. I can’t explain it. Like with Jacob. I just had to tell you. He knows he’s dying. He’s afraid to tell his mother that he knows.”

She said, “He’s also afraid he’ll go without seeing his dad again. You have got to get his father back from Iraq. That’s what he wants more than anything in the world.”

There comes a time in every mother-daughter relationship when the world of gingerbread cookies, Barbie backpacks, pink wallpaper and the like swiftly fade.

“I’ll see what we can do, Lexi.”

She pleaded, “Please, try to get his father back in time. He can’t die without seeing his dad, Mom. Please!”

In the coming days Jacob indeed became sicker. Jacob’s father, we learned, was headed back from Iraq.

“He’s coming,” Lexi told Jacob. “I know you can hold on. But this room, it needs some cheering up. I brought you these.”

Lexi wrapped a string of Christmas lights around the foot of Jacob’s bed and put a white cross in his hand. She had attached sparkles to the cross and wrote “Believe” across it.

“That’s to remind you of me when I’m not here,” she said.

“They’re so pretty, just like you,” he said.

Jacob smiled and drifted to sleep.

“You’re going to make it, Jacob,” Lexi whispered. “You are. Just believe!”

That night, Lexi slept in Jacob’s room, which glowed from the string of Christmas lights. Off and on between naps Lexi hummed Christmas carols, prayed and wiped tears.

“Believe,” she whispered to Jacob. “Believe.”

When morning broke, there was Jacob’s father standing in uniform in the doorway.

“Shhhhh,” he said, tip-toeing to Jacob’s bed and sitting next to his sleeping son.

“Hey, Buddy. Gonna wake up and say ‘Hi’ to your dad?”

Jacob rubbed sleep from his eyes, which popped open. “Dad! Dad! You made it.”

Jacob looked at me. “Lexi, he made it!”

“Believe,” she said smiling.

As Lexi and I left Jacob and his mom and dad, I squeezed her hand. “You know, you really are special,” I said.

She smiled, squeezed my hand.

The day Jacob passed away with his father holding his hand, Lexi stood at the door, tears streaming from her eyes.

“Here,” Jacob’s mom said, holding the lights and cross. “We want you to have them … to remind you of Jacob. You gave him hope. You helped him believe.”

From then on, I trusted Lexi’s instincts, knowing she truly did feel the children.

And from then on at each Christmas, we’d decorate our tree with that strand of lights and the “Believe” cross. As Lexi said, it became our “tree-dition.”

I had lived through — and suffered through — the slow passing of other parents’ children frequently with Lexi sharing the sadness.

So, as my husband and I sat close, admiring the tree and the lights and cross, I said, “It’s been thirty years now and these lights …”

“I know,” he said.

He plugged the lights in and each one, after all these years, sparkled as brightly as the day Lexi brought them home and put them on the tree. Next to them was the “Believe” cross.

Just then, the phone rang.

“Lexi! How are you? How are the kids on my old ward?”

“You know, Mom, it’s tough sometimes. We all miss you since you retired. Say, did Dad put the decorations on the tree? Can’t wait to see them.”

“Yes, dear,” I said. “The ‘tree-dition’ lives on.”