(it's not a) Merry Christmas to All

2:04 PMHeather

Don we now our gay apparel.  Merry and bright.  It's the most wonderful time of the year.  Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.  Except for many--it's not any of these things.  For many people (and far too many that I know and love)--this season is anything but happy, merry, bright and wonderful.  It may be anticipated, alright.  But more in a dreading kind of way.  Because while the holiday season can be painted as all Norman Rockwell and peace on earth and good tidings of great joy, for many, it's a glaring reminder of what--or rather--who is missing.  Nothing shines a bright light on loss like the twinkle of Christmas lights.  

I know.  I remember.  But for many--they may not feel that you remember.  The loss may have been weeks or months or even years ago.  It was sad and tragic, but the lives of those around them have gone on.  But, theirs hasn't.  The days pass and friends move along, back into their routine.  For the grieving, the passing days begin to shed the surreal numbness of the loss and the hard reality sets in.  And the holidays, instead of being something to look forward joyfully, become something to dread.  To endure.  To cross off the list of "things I've survived without my loved one."  

I'm here to say something to every single one of you who feel that pit in your stomach when you consider the traditions that will forever be different.  What I want to say is that I know.  I remember.  And it's okay.  It's okay to feel angry, bitter, or resentful as the world passes on around you, as if nothing ever happened.  While your world feels like it's been turned upside down.  It's okay to crawl along, on your hands and knees, if need be, to endure.  To manage.  Or choose to ignore the holiday altogether. I've been there.

I can look back now, all these years later, and nothing quite highlights my loss like the holidays.  Sure, I've had more Christmases without my dad than I had with him.  But, still, I feel a lingering sadness at who is missing.  At what is different.  Holidays are a time of family gathering around the table.  Except that there will always be an empty chair.  

My dad's cancer diagnosis (and death sentence) came three days before Christmas when I was 17.  We were numb as my sister and I loaded all those gifts, cancelled our travel plans, and instead drove to a hospital room.  Ignoring the elephant in the room.  Wondering if it really would be 3-6 months?  A year later, on what would be our last Christmas as a family, I had learned to bury my head in the sand.  Looking back at photos from that holiday, it was painfully obvious how terribly ill my dad was.  But, in my memory, things seemed perfectly okay.  He was fighting.  We were hopeful.  

If only I had known.  That it would be the last time my dad would regale the extended family with his corny sense of humor as we ate our meal together.  That it would be the last year that my sister and I would flank our dad on the couch by the tree on Christmas Eve as he read, in his booming pastor voice, the story of Jesus' birth from Luke.  That my baby cousins would never again have their uncle's leg to hang onto while he jostled them about playing "pony."  That this would be my last Christmas gift to give.  How I would have given something more extravagant in meaning.  How I would have sat and pondered with him all the ways he'd blessed me.  And thanked him for all the ways he'd gifted me.  

The holidays have never been the same.  I don't say that to discourage you. My precious friends who are crawling through grief.  But, I say that to encourage you.  You will survive.  You will endure.  You will get through it.   Sure, there were honestly really bad Christmases.  Rock bottom was the one where I was left all alone.  Talk about a bad plot from a Lifetime movie.  But, I got through it. It didn't kill me.

I coped as best I could.  Continuing some traditions.  Painfully, at first.  With tear filled eyes.  And starting new ones.  Learning how to weave the past with the new "normal."  Dancing a delicate dance of pain and grief and loss with building new memories.  Intentionally deciding how we--my husband and I--wanted to celebrate Christmas with our children.  Bringing in a bit from our childhoods.  Mixing in some new things.  Letting go of things that didn't work for us.  

And something happened along the way.  Subtly, almost without notice, I slowly moved from dreading the holidays to tolerating them.  Not quite so hard.  Not quite so sad.  In time, aided by the joy of having my own children, I even came to a place of looking forward to them again.  My own little Christmas miracle.  How like the Lord to redeem the season by gifting me with my first born, just after Christmas.  Swollen and pregnant and miserable, I found myself sitting near my tree.  Reading the story from Luke with a sense of hope.  Considering the wonder of Christmas as never before, since I could suddenly relate to Mary on a whole new intimate level.  

So here we are.  23 years later.  Three children of my own.  Hosting my side of the extended family every year in my home.  Changing up the meal.  Evolving to new traditions.  Able to unpack the ornaments that were mine as a child with a sense of appreciation instead of just a nagging loss.  Still crying when I hear my dad's favorite Christmas song.  Because I can nearly hear him in my mind, singing along so loudly in that off key voice, completely uninhibited.  Reminding my children, year after year, how my dad loved that song. Sure, they roll their eyes.  But I say it anyway, again and again.  Because it connects what was to what is now.

And now, as the holidays approach, I find that pit in my stomach to be gone.  Replaced with the hope of the future.  Grateful for the years I shared with my dad.  Mindful of every one of you that I know who are traveling this worn and weary road of loss. Wondering about those of you I've never met--yet we share this kinship of loss and grief.

I look back, over my shoulder, and I want to tell you something.  Press on!  One foot in front of the other.  Fall down if you need to.  Cry out if necessary.  Grieve and scream and be angry.  It's alright if you do.  It's okay to just endure.  No need to hide behind a painted on smile. You will be carried through.  You are being held, right this moment, by your Heavenly Father who once grieved a loss, too.  A loss He ordained, in fact.  Because His love for you was so great that He sent his only Son to be wrapped in flesh, walk this earth, and die to redeem you.  

He hears.  He sees.  He knows.  And beyond the cries of your heart, I pray you hear his whispers of love.    

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