A few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, my beloved horse died unexpectedly to kidney failure. I had no clue that he was even remotely sick. Bossanova had been in great health for a twenty-five year old retired racehorse and had given my daughter a riding lesson not even a week before.
Before my parents bought him, we decided that I would ride him a few times to see if we were a good fit. The first time, we were in the arena with a handful of other horses, every rider was bundled up against the December chill and we looked like snowmen on horseback. For some reason, Bossanova spooked when I asked him to canter (a slow run) and twirled around racing straight towards another horse and rider. My mother about lost her mind as I got Bossanova under control and calmed him down. Another rider looked at my mom and said, “This girl just found herself her soul mate.”
The second time we rode together, it was Christmas morning and he was mine.
Our usual routine was an hour lesson and then a trail ride and run in the back pasture. When I got pregnant, Bossanova would walk cautiously during lessons and instead of racing full speed; he would only lope along. He knew I was pregnant before I did and my daughter has known that horse as family since she came into this world.
The evening we went to visit the horses was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. Earlier that day, I had to break the news that my grandfather passed away to my four year old. We had been preparing this, he had been sick for a long time, so my daughter took the news well, and we decided that riding and ice cream was in order to honor Papa’s life. But when we got to the barn, it was clear that something was wrong with Bossanova; he was gentle as always, but in pain. The next morning, the vet informed me that his kidneys were functioning at five percent and we needed to come say our goodbyes. We spent the afternoon with him and Bossanova was completely and utterly spoiled with treats and kisses.
After the vet gave him his final peace, I drove home with a shattered heart to tell my daughter more hard news — our sweet horse was gone.
So, why am I calling this a Christmas story when it reads like a story of loss? See, ever since our second ride on a cold Christmas morning ten years ago, the tradition was born to go out to the barn in pajamas with hot chocolate for a morning ride. A tradition that, four years ago, was joined by my daughter. The other night, she crawled in bed with me to ask me about our Christmas without Bossanova, visibly upset.
“Baby, it’s going to be different this year because he is in heaven. We can stay home in our pajamas instead.”
“Mom,” she got very serious, “how about we just go to heaven to see him? Jesus is up there and so is Papa!”
(cue my tears)
“Oh love, we can’t get to heaven.”
“Well my teacher told me that Jesus is everywhere so maybe since Bossanova is with him, he is everywhere too? We should stay on the couch on Christmas and Bossy will find us there. That’s a good plan.”
My daughter, in her childlike faith and unconditional open heart, made Christmas happy again with her simple announcement.
Christmas is a time of joy but sometimes where there is fresh pain, it’s hard to be joyful. As an adult, my perspective is one of loss and grief, but as a child, her shift in perspective gave her – and me – joy.
And that, my dear friends, is what Christmas is all about.