Spirited Communication

My Favorite Christmas Gift

The radio host today asked listeners to share their favorite Christmas gift. I didn’t call in but I knew what I would say.

When I was in my late teens, my sister, Annette, sewed each of her brothers and our parents the same gift: A cloth ornament shaped like a candy cane. At the time, I didn’t think much of the ornament, except to acknowledge the time and effort Annette put into cutting the fabric, adding a soft filling and sewing each closed. When I left for college, I packed the ornament with other personal items that I couldn’t take with me and forgot about it.

A few years later, Annette, who was two years older than me, got married and they had a son. When we gathered at our parents’ home to celebrate Christmas, I saw that my mom had included her cloth candy cane ornament on the Christmas tree. That reminded me about my ornament, which was still packed away because I didn’t decorate a Christmas tree at my apartment.

One day my sister called me. Her voice breaking, Annette told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24. It was a shock, of course, and I moved back into with my parents to be able to help as Annette fought the cancer with chemotherapy and radiation. After 1-1/2 to 2 years, the cancer spread to my sister’s lungs and brain, causing her death that June.

In December, although we still mourned the loss of Annette, my parents and I put up the Christmas tree. When mom added the candy cane ornament, I ran to where I had stored mine. I placed it on the tree and wished that I could tell Annette how much her thoughtfulness meant to me.

This week, 40 years after my sister’s death, my wife and I put up our Christmas tree. Kim knows I have a tradition now, so she patiently waited until I found the ornament that would be placed first on our tree: a weathered fabric candy cane ornament. Over the years, I’ve opened many presents that were placed under our tree. But my favorite gift has always hung above the gaily wrapped presents below. A simple present made with love by the sister who will always remain in my heart.

Candy Cane fabric ornament made by Annette Keefe


  1. Scott Murphy

    I remember Annette watching us a couple of times. She was so nice. I’m so glad you wrote this. Brought back beautiful memories.

    • Tom Keefe

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott! I also have great memories of growing up in West Rogers Park with good neighbors like the Murphys!

  2. Jenny

    This is a beautiful story, beautifully written! I didn’t know about this, and I’m very sorry!

    • Tom Keefe

      Thank you, Jenny! The post gave me an opportunity to share something that I don’t talk about often. I’m glad you and others read it!

  3. Judy Roberts

    Thanks Tom! That is a bittersweet story! You are an incredible person! Glad to know you!

    • Tom Keefe

      Thanks for reading it and leaving the kind comment, Judy!

  4. Tom Keefe

    Thanks Dan! You and Pat knew her well.

  5. Dan Cotter

    Excellent, Tom — a beautiful reflection.

  6. Tom Keefe

    Thanks, Terri! We remember the people who are important to us, like Don Cameron too!

  7. Houlahan Terri

    What a lovely tribute to your sister!

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