Imagine you have lost your husband of 20 years three months previously, and its Christmas time. Everywhere you go there is happiness in the form of Christmas music, decorations and lights. You try your best to ignore it, but worst of all, your 10 year old daughter is constantly asking you to buy a Christmas tree and start decorating the house.
This book is the true story of exactly this experience. Jo lost her husband in September 1999 and was determined to ignore Christmas completely that year. Her eldest teenage son agreed with her, but her two youngest children as well as her ‘true friends’ certainly did not. The novel tells how this family overcame their grief enough to carry on; but only with some rather unconventional help.
What the blurb says:
For readers of Richard Paul Evans and Greg Kincaid comes The 13th Gift, a heartwarming Christmas story about how a random act of kindness transformed one of the bleakest moments in a family’s history into a time of strength and love.
After the unexpected death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith had no idea how she would keep herself together and be strong for her three children–especially with the holiday season approaching. But 12 days before Christmas, presents begin appearing on her doorstep with notes from their “True Friends.” As the Smiths came together to solve the mystery of who the gifts were from, they began to thaw out from their grief and come together again as a family. This true story about the power of random acts of kindness will warm the heart, a beautiful reminder of the miracles of Christmas and the gift of family during the holiday season.
Jo is grieving but acknowledges that to a certain extent she is beginning to come out the other side. She realises that her determination to avoid all things Festive is in part out of a sense of loyalty to her husband. She says: ‘I’m not sure if this longing I’ve been feeling lately to get a grip and move on is natural, or if I am somehow betraying him’ and later ‘What harm would it do, really, if I give in to Christmas for the sake of the kids? Is it disrespectful to Rick’s memory, or is it what he would have wanted me to do?’
Through the help of her sister in law, a number of random strangers, her husband’s amazing work colleagues and her ‘true friends’ who leave the gifts, she comes to realise what affect her behaviour is having on her children, specifically Megan her youngest child. She says: ‘I have been emotionally absent from our children’ and ‘It wasn’t until I nearly stumbled over that poinsettia that I began to see how much my kids needed me’.
Initially she resists the power of the gifts and becomes almost unhealthily obsessed with discovering the identity of the givers. Eventually however, when she realises that the gifts are beginning to bind her broken family back together, she accepts that ‘Help comes in all kinds of packages’ and worries less about who is to thank.
If I do have a criticism of the novel, it is that I felt the author to be a little detached from the story and the emotions she was describing. In a way I wanted my heart to be wrenched just a little bit more. Perhaps this is the way it had to be in order for Ms Huist Smith to tell the story at all, or perhaps this is the natural result of a gap of 15 years between the publication and the events described.
The novel IS about how an act of random kindness can transform a family, but it is also about the power of friendship and solidarity; about how it’s OK not to be able to cope without some outside help and without others to show you the way. It also illustrates beautifully how being the recipient of such random acts of kindness is likely to encourage other acts – a kind of ‘do unto others…’ idea. Indeed, in Jo’s own words ‘What better way to honor our loved ones, past and present, than to reach out and change a life for the better?’
You can purchase part 1 and part 2 of the story on kindle for 99p each at the moment.