Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas and Grief

This year I put up a tree for the first time in 3 years.

I have always felt that Christmas is what you make of it. Your celebrations should be customized to reflect your own beliefs and priorities. For instance, if you don't like the commercial aspect, then exclude commercialization from your celebrations. But celebrate Christmas with passion! After all, it is the "glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all men".

Two years ago I unexpectedly lost my 19 year old son in a drowning accident. Overcome with grief and loss, I did not put up a Christmas tree. Instead, I celebrated by attending 2 candle-lighting ceremonies, and sobbing by my son's grave, telling him he shouldn't be there. In place of our regular tree, I bought a small "memory tree", which is decorated with blue ornaments (his favorite color). We put it up every year. But the regular tree stayed in its box.

Last year shortly before Thanksgiving my mother passed away after a brief struggle with cancer. In the confusion and chaos that followed, the tree stayed in its box for another year.

This year I determined that the tree must go up. Life goes on, as does Christmas, that eternal symbol of hope. I knew that putting up the tree would make it seem like a happy Christmas, even though a "normal" Christmas was gone forever.

In spite of chronic illness, I managed to put up the tree, lights and some household decorations. The house sparkled while I struggled to put aside my sadness. After celebrating with my oldest daughter and grandchildren, I came home and watched some Christmas Eve church services. In the quiet of the night, I was overtaken by a rush of longing for my son. I wanted him here, at home, with his family where he belonged. The yearning was deep, primal. This separation was unnatural; it should not be!

And then, there in the dark, I began to see a tiny glimmer of light. It was something I had known before, but had forgotten, and needed to see again. In this sinful, suffering, sorrowing world, there is a light - the light of the eternal God, who is more deeply involved in our grief than we can possibly know or understand. He is there, He is always there. Emmanuel, God with us - grieving, loving and comforting us.

And I understood that I need to build a new "normal", not only with Christmas, but also with God and others. This is something that I need to do alone, something that others who have not been through a similar experience can or will understand. I need to stop feeling guilty that my feelings are not the same as before my son's death. It is okay to feel differently, to figure out what my feelings are and that they are justified.

And I saw that things will never be the same, but they can be good again.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

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