A Christmas Day fire that swept through Madonna Badger's home in the middle of the night, killing her three young children and her parents has made it impossible for me to write on anything but family today.

Gone, though, are all the clever thoughts about returning gifts like socks and scarves and hideous ties from parents and children for something really nice, like a new first-person shooter game. All those clever digs about family, Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Not so funny now--at all.

All I can think this minute is about the real, sudden at unimaginably tragic loss of a family--as happened to this woman. By all reports, she had everything--a fine career, loving parents and children, a beautiful home. Now, by her own words, she is left with nothing. It makes it so harshly clear, on this sunny and beautifully warm East Coast day, how, at any moment, despite our savings accounts, good fortune, insurance policies, our happiness--the whole having-made-it-safely package--there is nothing ever that can be done to make a person safe from the random nature of fate.

There is the sudden cruel destruction of the lives she lost. An unimaginable horror to any who have not experienced such devastation--an unspeakable reminder to those who have. Her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, about to celebrate their wedding anniversary today, succumbed in the blaze. Lomer, 71, had retired from a regular job and decided to become a professional Santa, working at Saks Fifth Ave., bringing joy to small children. She also lost her three youngsters, Lily, 9, and Grace and Sarah, 7-year-old twins in a few fiery minutes.

There are the feelings she must have felt and must now feel--the woman herself, fighting the heat and smoke to break windows and get her children and parents out from a rooftop in the middle of the night, struggling against the flames to save her family to no avail. When she was helped away by Stamford firemen, she was heard to say, My whole life is in there.

Family is a whole life. Nothing else. And sometimes in the holiday domestic dramas and all that shopping this idea can be misplaced a bit, if not lost. This tragedy makes me think about the first Christmas, which must have been tinged with sorrow as well as filled with joy. It's about the birth of a child--and is not usually associated with is the loss of one. But, of course, that is a big part of the Jesus story. Mary, as I (and I am no Biblical scholar) understand it, knew from the pretty much from the beginning that her Son was chosen, and would die. Surely, if not from the first moment the wise-men arrived, pretty soon after that.

What a burden for any mother. What a horrible reminder, this Christmas, that all mothers everywhere and from all walks of life and all nations, live with the burden of this fear. Perhaps they don't know, like Mary. Perhaps it is just a dark nightmare and then, for the tragic ones, like Ms. Badger, a dream that becomes a reality--to suffer the unspeakable loss of a child.

It wasn't what I thought I'd be thinking about this Christmas time, and I expect that is true for anyone who heard this tragic story. Instead of Christmas cheer, I find myself sending a modest wish to Ms. Badger, and all the mothers out there who have suffered as she has in this troubled world during this difficult year--a hope that they can find some measure of support, some comfort, someday, somehow.

And another thought too--to send out a small thanks to all the other mothers out there, whose children still live, and who worry, every day, about us. Who are forever concerned about our safety--and watch over us, as best they can.

For those interested in the coverage of this tragedy, some of the stories can be found here, here, here and here.