Christmas Grief, Christmas Hope, Christmas Joy

grave-at-christmas

December’s festivities are tempered with sorrow for some. My mother passed away December 10, my father December 12, and my grandmother Christmas Eve, each in different years. In more recent years a college friend and our only family dog died on December 21. My brother once commented that he just wanted to cancel the whole month.

The death of a loved any any time of year can shadow the whole Christmas season as we miss our normal interactions with that loved one. Grief begins as a flood but slowly transforms into a stream that occasionally overflows its banks. Even several years after a loss, it’s not abnormal to be caught off guard by a memory or a longing leading to a good crying jag.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there is no one right way to celebrate Christmas. That’s true not only among different families or individuals, but even within the same hearts in different years.

When someone is grieving over the holidays, they may not want to participate in some of the “normal” happy pastimes. It’s not that they don’t ever laugh or enjoy gatherings. But as Sherry said, “I am enjoying the traditional holiday celebrations, and at the same time they move me to tears, sad tears for things that have been lost this year. I am singing the music, and yet I’m tired of the froth of jingling bells and pa-rumpumpum.” I remember almost wishing that we still observed periods of mourning with wearing black or some sign of “Grief in progress” — not to rain on anyone else’s good time, but just to let people know there was woundedness under the surface. Just as physical wounds need tenderness while healing, so do emotional ones.

Other events can cast a pall over Christmas: illness, job loss, a family estrangement, etc. One Christmas we were all sick as dogs, and my father-in-law had just had a major health crisis and wanted us to come up from SC to ID to visit. There was just no way we could drag ourselves onto a plane until antibiotics had kicked in. But a few days later we did go, and if I remember correctly, that was the last time any of us except my husband saw him alive. In retrospect we were glad we went, though it wasn’t the merriest of Christmases. A good friend grieved over “ruining” her family’s Christmas by being in the hospital with a severe kidney infection. Lizzie wrote about visiting her husband in prison for Christmas. Quilly commented about being homeless one Christmas.

If you’re grieving this Christmas, don’t feel guilty if you’re not quite into the “froth” this year.  Give yourself time to heal. It’s ok to pull back and have a quieter Christmas. There may be times to go through with some holiday festivities for family’s sake — and, truly, those times can help keep you from the doldrums.

Perhaps a new tradition commemorating your loved one might help. My step-father and sisters who live near my mother’s grave go out together as a family to put up a little Christmas tree there. I’m too far away to join them, but every year on the anniversary of my mom’s death, I have a private little moment of remembrance. A family we used to know whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver requested that their church host a special service in December for those who have lost loved ones in that way. Some men from our former church participated in a biking event together in memory of our pastor who died of liver cancer.

On the other hand, don’t feel guilty for enjoying Christmas. Experiencing joy shows no disrespect to your loved one or your circumstances. Your loved one would want to be remembered but would also want you to be happy. Sherry shared how making a list of reasons to celebrate Christmas helped. Look for the good things to rejoice in. My two friends mentioned above, Lizzie and Quilly, mentioned reasons for rejoicing in the midst visiting prison and homelessness. E-mom left a valuable comment that we can treasure up the memories of good Christmases to tide us over the not so good ones, and then look forward to better things ahead.

As I mentioned before, the first Christmas was not all about the froth, either. It was messy, lonely, and painful, yet out of it was born the Savior of the world and the hope of mankind.

If it weren’t for the hope that Christmas represents, I wouldn’t be able to endure the losses. The Christmas carol “O Holy Night” shares “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” comforts, “Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!…Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save.”

The baby in the manger didn’t stay a baby.  He was no ordinary child: the only begotten Son of the Father came to earth for a special mission. “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth.” He taught, He healed, He lived as an example, but His main purpose in coming was to take sin away by bearing it Himself on the cross some 33 years after His birth, so that all who believe in Him could have their sins forgiven and live with Him in heaven some day. I have the hope of eternal life and the hope of seeing my loved ones again. Biblical hope isn’t tremulous: it’s a confident expectation.

But eternal life doesn’t begin at death: it begins the moment God’s gift of faith is received. We have hope not only for life after death, but for joy and peace in the midst of sorrow, for help, grace, strength, love in this life as well. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”

Rejoice in that hope and promise. Draw near to Him who has borne our griefs and carries our sorrows until grief and sorrow are done away forever.

(This post is a blending of a previous post from the archives and a newspaper article published in 2011.)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

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17 thoughts on “Christmas Grief, Christmas Hope, Christmas Joy

  1. Thank you, Barbara, for this post. Because of deep investments in the lives of family this fall, I haven’t had time or mental energy for some of the Christmas “extras.” My husband and I have been thinking about the fact that the extras are not what Christmas is all about, anyway. We ARE doing what is important. And for times when we feel weary and sad, the old carol you mentioned put it so beautifully: “Jesus Christ was born for THIS!”

    In His family, Marjorie Goertzen British Columbia, Canada

  2. Pingback: A Dusty Frame » Blog Archive » There’s Not A Right Way To Celebrate Christmas If Life Is Tough

  3. Such a helpful post! Grief is so hard especially during the holiday season. I loved this description of grief you gave us “Grief begins as a flood but slowly transforms into a stream that occasionally overflows its banks.” That is exactly grief! I am thinking of the many friends I have lost this year…and way too unexpectedly! Blessings to you!

  4. This post is good for all of us, Barbara, regardless of where we are this December. I remember my first Christmas after Kali died and it was totally miserable. And it was made worse (if that was possible) by expectations of Christmas “joy.” We do need to give ourselves permission to feel what we feel.

  5. Just what I needed today too; thanks, Barbara! I read a devotional last night about what the angels said to the shepherds: “Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” It went on to discuss first how they were concerned about our fears. Then, it mentioned how many fears can be alleviated by good news — and in this case, not just good news, but news that brings great joy. I found that helpful, in a similar way to this post.

  6. Beautiful, Barbara! I remember my first Christmas without my husband. I had decided I was going to soldier on for his sake and for our son. It felt different for sure and there wasn’t the warm fuzzy feeling I usually had. I had to make myself put up and decorate the tree but my son had his girl friend come over and we did it together. I did cook Christmas dinner for my son and my mother but I simplified it. I got through it but it wasn’t easy. Without God’s help….it could have been very very different!

  7. I LOVE this post! You have done a beautiful job of capturing the tension as we grieve those who are no longer celebrating with us because they have ‘moved to Heaven’ and enjoying the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I love the idea of starting new traditions. That’s what we have done as December is a tough month too. Thanks for sharing and many hugs as you remember well and ‘enjoy missing’ them.

  8. It’s all hoopla anyway if we forget the true identity of that baby in the manger, but even so, real loss does seem to hurt more at this time of year. Thanks for this dose of realism and hope.

  9. Excellent advice, Barbara. Kids at my school get into a lot of trouble the week before vacations (Christmas included) because they are stressed about going home (it’s a boarding school)–will home be a friend’s house? The family car? How many other people will be crowded into that small space for two weeks? Will there be enough food for them? How many times might they have to move in two weeks? Will they be physically safe? My Christmas vacation will be filled with prayers for my students.

  10. Thank you for sharing your heart, which I’m sure reflects many. Christmas can be painful, messy or hard, but what a privilege to have Him hold our hands through it all.

  11. Thank you for the healing properties of your words today. Grief shows up when we least expect it and I find that the holidays are one of those times. My parents passed away in January and August of their respective years but the physical loss of their presence always shows up.

    Your words provide such a calm and salve to the wounds of grief. Merry Christmas, Barbara.

  12. Eternal life does begin at salvation, I try to tell people that and He meant it to be abundant. The enemy does come though and Christmas is a time to attack isn’t it? I have prayed for people with life threatening illnesses, young people in the hospital. I know of a lady who passed at 12/25 on 12/25, I had a friend who could not join my birthday party on the 5th because she had lost her son on the 10th. May He give us the gift of our good memories and wash away the pain, we must never feel guilty about celebrating Christmas or Jesus though, even if you can’t Deck and Rock Round the Christmas Tree. Enjoy the Silent and Holy Night, And Always Adore Him.

  13. Visiting from Faith on Fire link up. Thank you for sharing this! Grief is universal, our hearts all can relate to its raw pain. Yet, even in our tears we are not alone. Immanuel, God with us, came for us. He is our hope in the midst of it all! We can hold tight to Him through all of life. And He will collect our tears in the grief that touches our hearts. May the Lord hold you in His love this Christmas! The realness of your words here are a blessing to me!

  14. I know Christmas can be a lonely time of grief too. I miss my father every year especially since he never spent a Christmas with my daughter. He never got to meet her. However, my daughter makes Christmas so special and fulfilling. Thanks for sharing on the #LMMLinkup this past week. I hope you had a special holiday time despite missing those that you love.

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