A blue, blue Christmas

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one candle black backgroundThis time three years ago, I would drive the short distance from my childhood home to the nursing home where my mother was dying with one song playing over and over in the car: “There’s Still My Joy” by the Indigo Girls.

It was the perfect music for those bewildering weeks in December and early January when my mother, at age 71, succumbed to a rapidly spreading cancer.

As December progressed, we lit another candle in the Advent wreath each Sunday, symbolizing the light of Christ coming into the world to shatter the darkness. And as December progressed, I watched my mother’s light be just as swiftly extinguished week after week, and darkness threatened to engulf me.

Until I experienced that terrible grief, I never quite realized just how many people are suffering at the holidays — how painful it all can be. Christmas is such a powerful reminder of losses of the past, of those we loved who are no longer.

It’s also a reminder of the people who are with us right now for what will likely be their last Christmas on earth. Last week I went caroling with friends from my husband’s church, mostly to homes where someone is in hospice. One house we visited was for a woman in her early thirties who is dying of cancer, leaving behind three tiny children. They weren’t even sure she would make it until Christmas Day. I’m glad I didn’t know the situation until after we had already caroled there, because I don’t think I could have made it through the music without blubbering.

But holy tears are a part of Christmas, our grief a hint of the “now and the not yet” that Christians are called to live in. We are in this world, invested in relationships and learning to love one another. But we are not of this world; it is not the end, even when a piece of us is shredded by the loss of another. They are still a part of us, among the great cloud of witnesses.

When the angel told Mary to “fear not,” I don’t think it was only because angels look terrifying when they show up in your bedroom or even because her life was going to change irrevocably by the birth of her son. I think it was also because her life would be forever changed by his death many years later. Death and birth are intertwined right from the beginning in the holy story. It was not an accident that one of Jesus’ baby shower presents was myrrh, which was used to embalm the dead.

“Fear not” was wise counsel for Mary, and it remains wise counsel for us. A blue Christmas can be a reminder of the bittersweet transience of life, each empty place at the table an expression of our full, full hearts.

There’s still our joy.

With Mom on Christmas Day, 2012. She died the following week.

With Mom on Christmas Day, 2012. She died the following week.


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  • A lovely reflection, Jana. Thank you for sharing. My own father passed away in early December four years ago and so I understand the mixed feelings the season can bring. May God bless you richly in the New Year.

  • Kevin, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. That first Christmas without your loved one is the worst, and I can only imagine how much harder it would be if the grief were so fresh.

  • Benita Brown

    Thank you, Jana. Your reflection is just what I need this Christmas. On December 11th, my older brother, who was under treatment for depression, shot and killed his wife and daughter in their sleep, and then turned the gun on himself. Their joint funeral is tomorrow. As I have traveled through many emotions, my thoughts have returned again and again to “And on earth, peace…” Joy will come again, but, for now, peace is welcome, and it has come. Sometimes that is enough.

  • Susan

    This is beautiful. I love what you wrote here. Having someone who is important to you die changes your life and your perceptions of the world forever. My mother died at 61 more than 24 years ago, close to Easter. Another friend died at 18 almost 36 years ago. Both relationships are still so important to me. Death seems unnatural and wrong to me, although it is certainly part of this life. I am grateful to know that there is a veil and that some of our loved ones are on the other side of it. I am grateful this is the work Christ chose to do, reuniting us with those we love most and best.

  • Allison Mack

    Jana, thank you for sharing your memories with us. This is the first Christmas I am going to spend without my mother. I’ve been dreading it since her passing last March. Since my father’s death 15 years ago, the two of us have spent our Christmas holidays together. I loved being with her, and cherish our Christmas memories, but know that the coming holidays are going to be hard.

  • Ron Jones

    I am deeply touched. Thank you for sharing your Holy Tears. .I always find your comments and insights helpful.

  • Dianne Tobey Covault

    Jana, yes. Yes and yes. Thank you for sharing this. No matter what the loss, it is not easy to face the change.