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Sleep in Heavenly Peace

By Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe
December 25, 2016

It's Christmas Day. All are gathered at home with their loved ones. You may have started your day by going to church, calling friends to wish them "Merry Christmas," or even getting over a hangover, the product of too much partying.

As we come together on this holy day we remember the virgin birth; shepherds walking in the fields at night, following a star to the manger in which the Christ child, symbol of peace and love, lay.

You think of the gift of peace our Savior brought to this world and His desire that goodwill prevail amongst all men and women.

As we sing joy to the world, the Lord is come, we know that Sherry-Ann Lopez and Richard Banfield do not have their daughter, Shannon Banfield, with them to share in this life-giving message. They know Shannon has gone to another world, her life having been snatched from her just as she approached womanhood.

We think of a mother's pain and the call that never came. Imagine if you can, a mother breathlessly waiting to hear the warmth of her daughter's voice that we now know she will never hear again.

Think also of the twinge of remorse. "I should have picked her up. I had always had my fears but I thought, just for this one time, she could taxi home alone. It's late afternoon. Nothing could possibly happen."

"Will I always be there to bring her home safely? One day she will have to take her taxis alone and navigate the storms and tempests of life."

Even after Sherry-Ann failed to receive the call, there was the haunting realization: "This is not like my daughter. Always so responsible; always so caring; always thinking of others; always willing to help another if she could."

There must have been a cosmic mistake. Perhaps the stars had not lined up properly that day. Something terrible must be out of whack, but she kept her faith. He that knowest all our joys and our hopes knows how much Shannon means to her mother.

Her mother expected a miracle. The Lord, in his mercy, would surely intervene to protect her baby and bring her home safely.

Three days passed before the horrible news came to light. It took a while before the enormity of the tragedy assailed her. Her mother could not believe it. It dawned on her baby would not be coming back to her.

It's Christmas morning. She listens to the good news, "Away in the manger/ No crib for a bed./The little Lord Jesus,/ Lay down his sweet head," and she wonders where can my baby be?

In her cozy home in the Santa Cruz valley, that comforting message raises more questions than answers.

"I am a poor mortal," she says. "God gave me two children and now, in the twinkling of an eye, my baby is gone. Evil forces thought it best to take her away from me."

As the coolness of the morning breezes greets her, the words of another Christmas carol try to soothe her soul: "Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright." This morning though her heart is not calm, nor is her future that bright. Yet, she prays that her baby is asleep in the arms of her maker.

As she listens more attentively to the strains of one of the most powerful Christmas carols, little does she know that in 1818 that Joseph Mohr, far away in a tiny village in the Austrian mountains, crafted this verse because the people at his church found their organ broken and had to compose a song to express the Christmas joy without an organ.

Here, in the tiny village of Santa Cruz, nestled beneath the foot of the Northern Range, Sherry-Ann Lopez tries to comprehend life without her daughter. What song must she sing; what words must she utter to express her inexpressible grief?

She thinks: "Sometimes I don't always understand the inscrutable ways of this world; sometimes I don't even know why people are born if they have to die."

"But," she says, "I thank God. He gave me an angel even if it was only for a short time and for that I am grateful."

Shannon loved purple, the color associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power and ambition. She had all these qualities in abundance.

But the color purple also calms the mind, lifts us to higher heights, suggests a sense of spirituality and encourages creativity. Sherry-Ann called her daughter "an angel." She knew Shannon's deep spirituality made her associate her life closely with the color purple. This is why she urged all those people who wanted to attend her daughter's funeral to wear purple to celebrate her life.

As the strains of Silent Night died, she knew that Shannon, a devout Christian, must have been sleeping in holy peace and that was enough for her; enough, we hope, to get her family through the day.

Merry Christmas to Sherry-Ann, Richard and their son.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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