Harald's Last Christmas Letter

In 2006, Harald Bredesen decided against sending his annual Christmas missive to friends and family. As usual, he was extremely busy, and he felt he didn't have time. Harald was a perfectionist when it came to letter-writing especially his Christmas letters. We heard stories of people framing them and hanging them on walls. One year, Pat Boone wrote, "Harald, your Christmas letters are always keepers."

He loved the compliments, but they may have increased his annual need to "top last year." The writing took a lot of effort.

Only a week before Christmas 2006, he changed his mind. He decided he needed to send one, but he wasn't sure what he wanted to say. He asked me if I had any ideas. As it happened, I had already been thinking about my own favorite Christmas memory. I told him the story and he thought it would make a great beginning to an excellent letter.

When the letter was finalized, I printed some samples for Harald on Christmas letterhead and sent them over to him.

One of the samples somehow fell into a box of material going to one of our Charisma Ministries board members, the owner of the legendary Carlsbad Raceway in Carlsbad, California, Jeff Grismer. Harald often spoke of the special place Jeff held his life. "Other than Gen [Harald's wife] I spend more time praying with Jeff than anyone else."

Jeff saw the letter, and his heart fell. He called me and asked if Harald had had a premonition of his death. It was only then that I realized what an odd thing Harald had prepared a Christmas letter about death.

When I told him how Jeff had responded, he said, "As far as I know, you're stuck with me for awhile longer."

It was a good line. I put it in the letter, sent the new version to Harald for final approval, and we soon started the production process. Even with time short, Harald and Gen personalized many of them. On December 23rd and 24th, the letters went in the mail. People would get them late, but they would get them.

On the 25th, Harald and his family had what in separate conversations he and two of his children declared to me was "the best Christmas" any of them could remember.

The morning of the 26th, Harald and I spoke at length by phone. We spoke about priorities for the coming year and years.

In the early afternoon of the 26th, while climbing the stairs with a flower in his hand, he fell backward, landing hard on the wood floor at the bottom of the stairs, severely injuring his head.

He remained conscious and able to communicate with loved ones that day and into the evening. Late that night, he slipped into a coma. He died, December 29, 2006 at age 88.

People began receiving the Christmas letter the day he fell. Many received the letter and news of the fall within minutes of one another. Some received the letter after hearing about Harald's death.

Both on "The 700 Club" and at Harald's memorial service, Gordon Robertson told about being out of town that week. He arrived home shortly after hearing of Harald's passing. Still mourning the loss of his friend, he found the remarkable Christmas letter waiting on him.

Here was a letter about death from someone who did not expect to die soon, but who had come to peace with death's inevitability, and found joy in the expectancy. He wrote:

It was Christmas Eve, 1985. My friend wanted to tell his two young children about Christmas in a way that would help them understand its importance. He began, "Because of Christmas, we don't have to fear death." . . . The manger in Bethlehem held the most precious package ever delivered into time and space — precious, not just in a huge, cosmic sense, but personally. He fills us with love and relieves our fears. Instead of a grim reaper, we who have accepted His salvation, find at the end of the road, our dear Friend, Jesus, full of joy and love, waiting to personally escort each one of us to the other side."

The friend Harald mentions at the beginning of the letter is me. It was my daughter, Angela, who came to Christ that Christmas Eve night when I gathered my family together to talk about Christmas, and began with this wonderful news.
     Because of Christmas, we don't have to fear death.

The letter.

Posted: 12-24-2008
Note: At original posting, all links were active.

 
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