Grief over the loss of a loved one doesn’t have to squelch the joy of Christmas.
When several friends heard my husband’s mother left this earthly life on December 2nd, they commented with compassion about how difficult it was to lose someone in December. I wondered myself how we would cope with this new wrinkle of grief in our already packed holiday schedule. Would my holidays be forever marred by the memory of our early December loss? I’d already experienced one death in December, the going to Glory of my great-uncle, Ron, on December 1st. Silly me. As Jane entered her final hours, I found myself silently pleading, “Please, not on the first. Not two deaths on one date.” God, in his mercy, took Jane home at 6:30 the next morning.
As soon as we received the phone call, the events of the week did a seismic shift. We spent the next two days making funeral arrangements, travel plans, contact with family, and arrangements to find replacements for the jobs from which we had to walk away. We arrived in Atlanta two hours before the private family burial. The next day was spent in talking with the minister, sorting through possessions, and picking up our daughters who flew in for the memorial service. Wednesday, we took our girls to the cemetery, then gathered with extended family for the memorial service. Flying home the next day, we arrived home utterly exhausted, just in time for me to bounce over to the church for Bell Choir practice.
Thankfully, the final day of our unscheduled week was empty, one day to regroup before we had to reenter the racetrack of our lives. We took our time to do household chores, stopping often to gaze at the family history portrayed on the digital frame we had brought home with us and sitting on the couch together to read through a stack of sympathy cards.
“It’s never easy to lose a parent at any time,” the personal note in one card read. Losing a loved one in the month of December is compounded by the busy demands of a holiday season and the house of cards expectations that Christmas is supposed to a be a care-free time. Too busy with details to mourn, I felt the emotions of our loss creep into my awareness as I sat on the couch with my husband. How was I going to slog through the next two weeks? Did it have to be this difficult?
Many people suffer from grief and gloom during December. For the Christian, does it have to be that way?
For me, deaths in December have made Christmas more meaningful.
Three reasons came to my mind of how the deaths in our family had the potential to make our Christmas even more special.
First, their deaths illuminate the very reason for the existence of Christmas. Jesus came to earth so He could release us from the power of death and the clutches of grief. Uncle Ron and my mother-in-law both believed in Christ and had followed their Lord for decades. They get to spend this Christmas in the very presence of Jesus! What better way to celebrate a holiday that commemorates Christ’s entry into our world!
Second, their December deaths forced me to prioritize and evaluate what was important. As I created a to-do list after I came home from Atlanta, I shook my head at the lengthy list. I could not do it all. I could not do all the baking, giftwrapping, and programing I thought others expected of me. For one thing, there weren’t enough hours in the day. For another, I was tired. Even several good nights of sleep had not yet replenished my energy.
I took to heart the words of Proverbs 16:9:
“In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.”
I made out my to-do list, then made the commitment to wake up each morning, committing the day and its events to God’s Day-Planner. “Show me this day what is important to do,” I prayed.
Finally, December deaths taught me to take one day at a time. I realized that the most important moment is right now and the most important person is the one next to us. We get so caught up with buying presents for the Big Day, of fulfilling obligations to send cards to those who sent us one last year or to give gifts to certain people year after year. I think I’m changing my approach. I’m becoming far more “in-the-moment.” If I see something I think someone would like or need, why wait for an official gift-giving day? Why wonder if they are on my gift-giving list? Why not give to those who can’t give back even if it means I don’t have the money to give an obligatory gift to someone else?
I had bought my mother-in-law who suffered from dementia a cute little Teddy Bear two weeks before she passed. Something deep within urged me to send it immediately. Forget the customs of Christmas; just send it. No, it would confuse the poor dear to get something early, we’ve been through this before, she would expect to open a present on The Day . . . .
I wish I’d sent it. It would have brought her comfort those last few days. So what if she got confused? Instead of waiting for Christmas Day to show I cared, I should have grabbed the moment.
Hebrews 3:13 says,
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Believe me, it’s still hard. In some ways I feel like I lost a week of my life. As I gather with others for holiday parties and programs, I feel disconnected, like I have one foot here and the other foot somewhere else. Chatter about decorations and holiday foods has lost its allure this year. There just seems like there are more important things in life, weightier issues. Time is short, let’s not waste it.
I look at those around me. I’m not the only one. In fact, four other friends have lost parents in just the last two weeks. Death has no respect for Day-Planners and to-do lists. Death is part of life. December 25th is merely a date on the calendar that calls us to celebrate the greatest event of human history. As I relinquish my loved one into the arms of Jesus, I’m doing exactly that.
December deaths have broadened my celebration. The babe in the manger rises to become the Lord of Glory who stands with His hands outstretched, waiting to welcome the Faithful home.
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