I have a friend whom I met back in 1987, when she moved into another room in the house I was living in. She was a first-year student while I had just completed my Master's, but in spite of our difference in age we clicked and became great friends. I haven't seen her since her graduation in 1991 (she moved to southwestern Ontario and then to Alberta), but we've exchanged Christmas cards ever since and although our contact is infrequent I consider her a lifelong friend. She and her husband have always sent out the most beautiful family photos at Christmastime, and it was delightful to get one each year and see them with their first daughter and then, a couple of years later, with their second.
At Christmas 2005 I opened their card with anticipation and found another beautiful picture: of my friend, her husband, and one little girl holding a teddy bear. It took a moment to sink in (literally, "What is wrong with this picture?"), but my friend's note on the card explained it all: earlier that year their younger daughter had died suddenly at age 2 as a result of toxic shock. I cried as I looked again at their faces--serene yet with an expression that showed they knew something most of us do not--and at the teddy bear, which had been their little girl's favourite toy.
This past Christmas my friend's card said that they were expecting another baby in May, and just this week I received a photo and announcement of their new baby daughter, Grace. My friend wrote, "It is so good to feel joy again." They have walked through the valley of the shadow, and they are still moving forward, with grace.