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Monday, December 24, 2012

Grief at Christmas: Finding that Simple Quiet

Hang on, it’s begun. I heard my first Christmas carol on the radio two weeks before Thanksgiving and neighbors, as well as store owners, must have heard it, too. Lights and tinsel are popping up everywhere. The holidays. Watch out. I recall being in Burma (back when we called it Burma) and the simple Christmas Eve with communion. There was a loaf of bread and a chipped glass of wine inside a modest church, no blaring music about Santa, not a spruced-up fir in sight.

“What’s wrong with her?” others whisper as they joyfully join in the carols and stand in line at Target to purchase ornaments for the tree. “It’s a season to celebrate, to sing, to eat, to decorate the house, and to be happy with your family. Get with it!”

That’s the problem. Many can’t. Many Americans are unable to embrace good cheer and lift their glasses to festivities with family and friends. The holidays, for many, are a sobering time, a time of sorrow, of joy-less-ness, of memories of what used to be and what is not now.

It’s not that we don’t want to celebrate, it’s that our naivety has vanished; our eyes have been opened. For me it came when my four-year-old son was presented with an abundance of gifts at the hospital. Generous givers entered his room and the rooms of other sick little boys and girls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They handed out toys. If only, I thought as my weak child opened each gift, one of these gifts was health.

Daniel died six weeks later. The next Christmas I had no desire to get excited about much of anything. The memory of his thin body injected with medicine, seated on the sterile bed opening gifts was just too painful.

I had to buy gifts though; I had three children who had each given me lists. One afternoon, I reluctantly wandered into a store and was drawn to a small porcelain manager scene, a broken one. Someone had glued it; the line of glue was right above the donkey’s ear. Feeling it was symbolic of my new life, I bought it. I would start a new tradition. This broken and repaired scene with Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the donkey would be my new decoration in memory of my son.

Years later, I was able to find a morsel of hope in a few Christmas hymns as I realized that the season was, of course, not about lights or parties at all. Those had the potential to steal from the season, making one feel that if her calendar wasn’t filled with party invites, she was unable or unworthy to enjoy the meaning of Christmas.

I held my decoration and rubbed my finger over the thin broken line. As I did, I felt the brokenness from my own heart. A baby born in a manager came into the world to heal that crevice, and offer peace, love, salvation, and hope. Why did our society let all the noise of commercialism get in the way of that simple, and yet very profound message?

“I am sometimes asked how I get through the holidays now,” a parent whose son died wrote to me. “Do I ever feel the Christmas Spirit these days? And after ten long years, I can finally say that the Christmas Spirit somehow always finds me. It might only l last a little while, but it’s there.”

May our grief open our eyes and hearts to reflect on that first manager scene when hope was born. May we find time to ponder, to listen, and to rest in the quiet. As we continue to miss loved ones, may we pray for strength to reach out to those around us who have lost hope so that they can experience even a little while of the Christmas Spirit.

Alice J. Wisler lives in Durham. Her new book on grief and loss is Getting Out of Bed in the Morning (Leafwood Publishers). Read more at her blog:


Angie Arndt said...

For me, Christmas hasn't been the same since my husband's best friend was shot on Black Friday. We spent Christmas that year in the hospital with him and his family. Although he survived that Christmas, he was paralyzed and finally succumbed to infection from the bullet wounds the following year.

This year I lost my sister Oct. 22 and my sister-in-love on Nov. 21 -- the day before Thanksgiving. I guess that the longer we live, the more we'll associate holidays with loss.

Thank you for offering that morsel of hope to others who have lost parts of their lives. Praying for you to have peace, comfort and strength this Christmas.

LeAnne Hardy said...

This Christmas seems to be full of tragedy from Newtown to Afghanistan. Many will find it hard to face the holidays next year after this one. I keep thinking of that first Christmas and the families of Bethlehem who lost their baby boys.Liturgical churches commemorate that event on Dec 28. I plan to take some extra time for prayer that day, and am inviting others to join me ( Thank you for sharing your pain, Alice.

Jennifer said...

Wonderful thought, Alice. God has spoken to my heart today that I need to move past mourning in certain areas of my life. I wasn't sure how. But as I move into the next few days, I am going to be open to buying something to display on my mantle to remind me to exchange this spirit of heaviness for the garment of praise...

alice wisler said...

Thanks to all for reading and for your comments here.