Last year, 2 days after Christmas, my family’s world was turned upside down. My husband received a phone call, one that will haunt me all of my days, from a police officer 1000 miles away, delivering the shocking news that my father-in-law had died of an apparent heart attack. From the moment that phone rang to the moment we buried him, to all the other horrible things we had to deal with in between, we were making our way through a storm of trauma. Every time the memory of that phone call, or the phone calls that followed, creep back into my mind, I feel anxious and sad. I shake it away as quickly as I can, as one might do when jolting awake from a terrible nightmare.
On that horrible day last year, we made our emergency travel plans sitting on the floor next to our Christmas tree. We cried for hours in complete disbelief of what we had just learned. The shock that had me shaking my head for days as if it weren’t true, as if my mind and my body were not agreeing on reality, had kicked in at full force. In a split second, the glorious haze of brand new Christmas presents, some still in boxes, strewn about the living room went unnoticed. The cheerful colors of shredded wrapping paper peeking out from underneath the couch suddenly felt like an assault on the dark cloud of pain that loomed over us. The excitement of brand new toys, the Christmas music that played in the background, the joy that mid-morning snacks of Christmas cookies and candy canes brought, all came to a screeching halt. And standing 7 1/2 feet over us, our old, beloved Christmas tree that had seen us through so many happy moments while it sparkled proudly in our front window, now felt misplaced and unwelcome. It was as if that tree was trying to make us feel Christmas when all we could feel was numb despair.
To follow has been a year of grief. Of hard moments and hard things. Many hard things. As we approach the anniversary of his passing and the days and weeks of hazy motions that followed, I’m finding this Christmas difficult to embrace. I love Christmas and the memories of traditions that we have celebrated throughout the years. I love watching my children place ornaments on the tree. I love the child like feeling that comes over me and the glee from my children when we see Christmas lights in our neighborhood. I love the sticky mess of decorating a gingerbread house while we listen to Christmas music and pop gum drops in our mouths. In all honesty though, it all feels so tainted this year. This year, Christmas is bringing with it the reminder of death. Of my Father-in-law, of my Grandma, my Grandpa, of family and friends who were gone from this world too soon. It makes me long for those who aren’t here and those I cannot be near to.
I keep as busy as possible because when I stop, and am still for too long, the sad memories flood in. The regret of what could have been or what I thought would be is sometimes the hardest feeling to hide from in those moments. I know they say that grief never goes away. Some say it never gets easier, it’s just that over time, the hard, heavy moments come farther and farther apart. I know that there will be more hard Christmases over the years, as there will inevitably be more loss. For myself and for all who struggle through the holidays, I hope that as the years go by, the joy of Christmas and the memories of Christmases past, will overshadow the sadness.
But we all suffer in one way or another and sometimes the reality is that what we long for during the holidays cannot be, no matter how badly we wish for it. Sometimes, the holidays are the hardest times of all. No matter how hard we try to ignore or keep busy, we will still feel the absence of those we have lost. We’ll feel the tension of strained relationships. We may feel lonely and sometimes, though we may take joy in other people’s happiness, it can also bring us great despair for what we long for. For what was and will never be again.
This year, more than ever, I’m trying to hold on to the promise that is Christmas. The promise of God’s Son, whose birth we celebrate. The one who came to save us so we might have eternal life. I’m reminded of the reason that Christ was born into this broken world in the first place. A world that only He could save. A world fallen by sin and filled with sadness. A world where death can easily overshadow the life lived in times of grief. A world where difficult and broken relationships exist. A world where good people can lose everything and fall on the worst of times. A world in which hurt people inflict pain on others.
But after the suffering came beautiful redemption. A promise for the hurting and a Savior to cover our sins. The resurrection gives hope that in a way, reflects his birth; a new life to celebrate.
If you’re grieving or suffering in some way this Christmas, go easy on yourself. Know that it’s okay not to be okay, even in the middle of the holiday hoopla.
Though I’ll always wish for things to be different and wonder what more time would have looked like, I’m thankful for the promise of new life. In the pain-in the hard times I will breathe. In and out until the edge wears off a little. And as I exhale, I will draw near to the one who giveth and taketh away.
If you too, are finding Christmas sad this year, I hope you will do the same.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV
“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16