Ghosts of Christmas Past

In the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns the meaning of Christmas in a most unusual and uncomfortable way. Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be. Each visit is gut wrenching and frightening for Scrooge, but the story has a happy ending. Scrooge becomes a caring and loving soul who spreads the warmth of Christmas to those around him.

Scrooge was lucky. His ghosts came one time, and he was transformed. For some, ghosts visit every year. As many are shopping for the perfect gift or writing their letter to Santa, others are praying and hoping the Ghost of Christmases Past will not visit them again this year. Even more, they hope that no new ghosts will come into existence.

The prayers and hopes of police and other emergency services personnel in Grapevine, Texas were not answered last year. Sixty days ago, Christmas day 2011, the unthinkable happened, and it will be etched in the memory of some forever. Instead of visions of sugar plums, some will live with carnage of the worst murder-suicide incident in their city’s history. Six people were killed by a distraught father and ex-husband before he turned the gun on himself. If they did not already have ghosts from past Christmases, they surely have some now.

Tragedies such as the killings in Grapevine rightly focus the sympathy and prayers of the community on the family and friends of the victims. They have suffered a horrible loss that the rest of us are grateful we did not suffer. Our hearts go out to them, as well they should. Yet, they are not the only ones affected.

One would think the public servants who deal with these tragedies are steeled to them. After all, they are trained and experienced. They work in jobs that deal with tragedy, death and mayhem on a regular basis. As terrible as these incidents are, cops, firefighters and paramedics are trained to deal with them and not be affected.

Most police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel can detach themselves from tragedies while they deal with them. If they cannot, their chosen profession will be very short. However, even the most professional, the most experienced can become haunted by the things they see. Especially, what they see during holidays such as Christmas.

Thankfully, multiple death tragedies such as the Grapevine incident are not the norm. The norm is much less dramatic, but in some ways it has a greater impact.

Imagine, if you can, the police officer sent to meet a family on Christmas Eve. The family stopped by Grandma’s house to pick her up for dinner, and she is not answering the door. Every officer responding to that kind of call dreads what he or she may find.

The officer hopes and prays that there was a miscommunication. He or she hopes that Grandma is already at Aunt Suzy’s wondering why everyone is late. Yet, he knows the odds are high that Grandma has eaten her last Christmas Eve dinner, and he will be the one who must tell the family.

Imagine the officer who rolls up to a traffic accident on Christmas evening to find a family has shared its last Christmas together. The dead and dying are surrounded by the Christmas gifts they will never enjoy, from family members who will never see them again.

Imagine the firefighter or paramedic responding to a medical call to find a child who will not unwrap the gifts that Santa brought. She has succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective heater, or died in a fire started by someone smoking in bed.

Imagine the police officer standing on a mother’s front porch. She is waiting to tell someone’s mother that her child was killed by a drunk driver leaving a Christmas party.

Tragedies happen on every day of the year. They happen in every season. Still there is something about Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year that make them even more tragic and more haunting.

The men and women patrolling our streets, fighting our fires and staffing our ambulances are not immune to the impact of these tragedies. The next time a tragedy occurs where you live, especially during the holidays, keep the men and women who deal with them on our behalf in your thoughts and prayers.

© S. E. Jackson – 2011

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