There are some spoilers contained in this post. Should you want to read the book yourself and not have it spoiled, please go pick up the book. It will take you less than 45 minutes to read it.
It is called The Christmas Box, by Richard Paul Evans. From Amazon:
Self-published in paperback during the Christmas season 1994, Evans’s first novel quickly gained national media attention. Now the cleverly told tale, which the author reputedly wrote for his daughters and which revels in sentimentality, is available in hardcover. The story relates how a young couple, Richard (who narrates) and Keri, accept a position to care for a lonely widow, Mary Parkin, in her spacious Victorian mansion. As Christmas draws near, Mary becomes anxious about Richard’s obsession with success and his failure to make time for his family. She urges him to reconsider his priorities, but he is always too busy to heed her advice. It is only when Mary is on her deathbed and her secret sorrow is revealed through the letter-laden Christmas box of the title that Richard realizes what she has been trying to tell him. The message concerns love, of course, and the strings Evans pulls to vivify it should squeeze sobs from even the stoniest of hearts.
After researching it this morning it appears that I must have read it before it was officially published. Evans self published it in 1994, and that would have been the first Christmas I read it.
I read it for the first time in many years last night. It took on a whole new meaning to me. Thanksgiving of 1995, my Aunt Kari, Jennifer (not my wife) and I went to the Salt Lake City Cemetery to visit the angel statue mentioned in the book. At the end of the book you learn that Mary lost a child, a daughter. She would write her daughter letters every Christmas and take them to Andrea’s grave.
I didn’t know in 1995 that in 2007 I would lose a child of my own and know some of the pain Mary felt. I still have the picture of me laying the white flower in the angel’s arms. Someday I will smarten up and attach the picture to the book so that it doesn’t get lost.
Jenn knew last night when she handed me the book (after I had lost it in the house somehow). She asked me why I was going to torture myself. It wasn’t torture. It was comforting. It made me feel connected. Made me feel like I knew 15 years ago how important the loss of a child is. Before I ever knew the real pain.