Christmas essay about death, birth, miracles, love, family: “Heaven Sent”
Editor’s note: I love this essay for many reasons, not the least of which is that I appreciate getting to know more about Elder L. Tom Perry and his love of baseball, and feeling of the love within his family. As a mother, I’m moved by the message about the power of the love of a mother, and how such love can connect generations, sometimes in unexpected ways. This essay was written by L. Tom Perry’s son, Lee Tom Perry.
Heaven Sent: Encore to a Christmas Miracle*
~By Lee Tom Perry
There is a memorial brick in Boston’s Fenway Park with three lines of text:
L. Tom Perry
Lee & Linda Gay
8 May 2004
The brick commemorates the day my [now] 89-year old father, L. Tom Perry, threw out the first pitch at a game between the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals, while Linda, my sister, and I applauded his inside strike.
The three of us love the Red Sox. I usually explain that my loyalty dates back to 1967, the “Impossible Dream” year, when the Red Sox almost defied 100-1 odds by taking the St. Louis Cardinals to the seventh-game of the World Series before losing 7-2. The Fall Classic the three of us remember best, however, was in 1975 between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Watching all seven memorable games together re-cemented our family bonds as we faced the approaching holidays without our wife and mother, who died of cancer on December 14, 1974.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, our family’s Christmas was orchestrated by my mother. My father worked in the retail industry, and Christmas was his busiest time of the year. We rarely saw him between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, which was also my mother’s birthday. During the first few years after my mother’s death the holidays seemed to bring more emptiness than joy as my father, Linda, and I struggled to revive what we all knew to be the deeper meaning of Christmas.
For me these struggles were mostly in vain until the holidays of 1978, when I witnessed a Christmas miracle. By then, my wife, Carolyn, and I had moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and were expecting our first child. Initially, the due date for our baby was December 14th, the same day my mother had died. The link between these two events caught my immediate attention. It made me anxious, and I had a difficult time reconciling past sadness with anticipated joy.
After months of what proved to be wasted worry and concern, December 14, 1978 arrived, and in the afternoon Carolyn began to feel some contractions. They started fairly regularly, but became sporadic and finally stopped. It was false labor.
Once December 14th had passed, I began to wish that somehow our baby could be born on Christmas Eve—my mother’s birthday. As the countdown to the Christmas of 1978 continued, my count was always one day less than everyone else’s. I talked myself into believing that if our baby could be born on Christmas Eve, it would assure me that everything was well with my mother—that she was happy and aware of our blessed event. The birth of our baby on Christmas Eve, I felt, would be the closest I would come to sharing one more holiday season with my mother.
December 24th also came. It was a Sunday, and throughout the day I waited and hoped for Carolyn to tell me she was beginning to feel contractions. We attended church in the evening, and even after returning home Carolyn did not feel anything resembling a contraction. There was a disappointing moment when the realization finally hit me that it was now too late for our baby to be born on Christmas Eve. I had built myself up for something that wasn’t going to happen, but for Carolyn’s sake I tried to hide my feelings and exude holiday cheer.
About 11 o’clock that night, however, someone began to stir inside Carolyn, and I didn’t have to worry anymore about pretending to be excited for Christmas. By 2 AM, Carolyn’s contractions were coming longer, harder, and more frequently. We called our obstetrician, and he told us to go to the hospital, and he would meet us there. After hours of labor, during which I gained a whole new level of appreciation for my wife’s strength and courage, a 9 pound 9 ½ ounce baby girl was born at 1:32 PM on Christmas Day. We named her Audrey Lee Perry. We gave Audrey her middle name to connect her to my mother, whose surname was Lee.
Once it was clear that everything was well with both Carolyn and baby Audrey, I returned home to get some much needed food and rest. In a quiet moment of thankful prayer and reflection, the events of the previous hours spoke to me. There came a clear message surrounding Audrey’s birth. Everything was well with my mother. She was very much aware of my love for her, and my desire to include, even connect with her at the birth of her granddaughter. I could see her smiling down from heaven, and I whispered under my breath, “I love you, Mom.” At that precise moment, before the image of my mother began to fade, the full significance of the miracle I had just witnessed struck me. Audrey, my first-born, was born on Christmas day to remind me to focus not on the death of my mother, but on the birth of the First-Born of the Father, even Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
The 2009 postseason ended early for the Red Sox—swept in the American League Division Series by the Los Angeles Angels. My sister, Linda’s and my disappointment, however, didn’t sting like it once did. It never could after 2004. The 86-year drought ended miraculously that year when the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games and were crowned World Series Champions. Linda and I, who adore our father, like to think he single-handedly removed the “Curse of the Bambino” with his inside strike near the beginning of that title run. Perhaps it was him, someone, or something else, but the narrative definitely changed in the 2004 American League Championship Series when the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat their nemesis, the New York Yankees in seven games. This year, after Boston’s crushing 7-6 loss to the Angels, Linda and I could say, “Wait ‘til next year” with real conviction.
Still, it seemed like the right moment to lift Linda’s spirits by sharing some good news.
“Audrey’s expecting,” I said, “and due on March 3, the same day as Cami.”
Cami is Linda’s oldest daughter, and we had learned she was expecting a baby several months earlier. I had known for some time Audrey was going to have a baby but had been sworn to secrecy until now.
I’m usually the most competitive member of our family, but this time Linda took the prize with her surprising response. “I’m going to be a grandparent first!” she proclaimed. “You’re not going to win this time!”
“Game on!” I responded.
We received news that Cami was in labor on February 14, 2010.
“The 14th? I wonder what that means?” I thought, as I focused more on the day of the month that my mother died than it being Valentine’s Day. I did not have to wonder for very long. An e-mail arrived only a few hours later announcing the birth of baby Jane. Upon receiving the news, I called Linda and conceded defeat. I can’t recall what I said to her, but the only thing I felt was an overwhelming sense of joy for her and her family. I also felt joy for my mother. In my mind’s eye, I saw her, just as I did at the time of Audrey’s birth, smiling down from heaven.
My moment of reflection was interrupted by a startling impression. I won’t say I knew for sure, but I couldn’t shake the belief that Audrey’s baby would be born on March 9th, Linda’s 52nd birthday. If it happened, not only would Audrey deliver her first baby on the same day of the year as my mother delivered her last baby, it would be in the same city—Sacramento, California.
The impression felt like a special delivery sent from heaven by my mother. Why the need for such a message? I don’t really know, and I don’t claim to have special insight into how heaven works. I believe my mother does have such insight, however, and that’s all I need to know to listen for messages that are heaven sent.
The impressions I had following Baby Jane’s birth were deeply etched in my mind as March 3rd, Audrey’s due date, passed without incident. It was at this point that I shared what I had felt with Carolyn. But I also admitted to her that, as I ultimately learned surrounding Audrey’s birth, my impressions might only be the preview to a deeper, more meaningful lesson.
More days passed, and Audrey called from Sacramento to tell us that her doctors had decided if she didn’t deliver the baby by March 9th, they would likely induce her. Upon hearing this news, Carolyn and I decided to drive to Sacramento. During the 600-mile trip I had time to think about how I would feel if Audrey were induced on March 9th. In one respect, it was reassuring. Considering both Audrey’s and the baby’s safety, it was important not to let the pregnancy go too long. Still, I vastly preferred the idea of Audrey going into labor on her own, mostly because I knew that was my daughter’s wish.
Carolyn and I arrived in Sacramento late at night on March 7th. The next morning, Carolyn went with Audrey to a doctor’s appointment, and on the way to the doctor Audrey began to feel contractions. Audrey’s doctor checked her, determined Audrey’s contractions were the real thing, and recommended she immediately go to the hospital. When Carolyn called from the hospital to tell me the news I felt an immediate surge of excitement. I was trying to work when Carolyn’s call came, but all I could do after the call was pace the floor and pray.
All of us had our faith severely tested over the next day and night, especially Audrey. Her baby was in a posterior-transverse position, and she could not be turned. Audrey was in labor for nearly 24 hours when it was finally decided that the only option was a Caesarian delivery. Elizabeth Claire, an 8 pound, 7 ounce, and 20 ½ inch baby girl, was born at 7 AM, March 9, 2010. My mother’s middle name was Claire.
A few hours later, as I reported our joyous news to Linda, I, again, saw, in my mind’s eye, my mother smiling, as if she were standing next to me rejoicing in the birth of another great-granddaughter. It was not her voice, but another voice that said to Linda and me: “When you join together the meaning of your granddaughters’ birthdays, there is a clear message—an expression of your mother’s love, but more importantly God’s love. As you look into Jane’s and Elizabeth Claire’s faces, always remember that the miracle of birth is a gift from God. Love them as God loves you for all God’s children are heaven sent.”
My father and I attended a Red Sox game together on May 16, 2011, and the Red Sox were down 6-0 to the Baltimore Orioles when they came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. It was a rainy, gloomy night, and I entertained the thought that this might be my father’s last game at Fenway. I hoped the Red Sox could rally for him—or at least make a game of it. They did by scoring five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, and eventually won 8-7 on a walk-off double off the Green Monster by Adrian Gonzalez.
As my father and I walked out of Fenway that night, pushed along in the meandering stream of elated fans, I hoped there would be at least one more trip to Fenway for us. Wait until next year, I thought. Linda can come, too, and we’ll bring Jane and Elizabeth Claire. We’ll take them to Fenway to see their great-grandfather’s brick and tell them the story of how, before they were born, he removed the Curse of the Bambino. Bricks are formed from clay, and family stories and traditions are the clay from which lasting bonds of love are formed.
– – – – –
*The “Christmas miracle” of Audrey’s birth was originally published in the following essay: “Another Christmas Story” in This People, Holiday 1997, pp. 47-48.
This post was edited slightly from the original to include the editor’s note.