What a perfect day! It's very cold, just 29 degrees, and the sky is the color of an old pewter mug. There's a thin crust of ice on almost everything that isn't in direct contact with the ground. Streets and sidewalks and the flagstone path in my back yard are dry, but shrubbery and the few remaining leaves on the trees wear an icy shell. Even the grass crunches gently underfoot. The leaf net over my fishpond is sagging toward the water, weighed down by the droplets of ice that adorn it, like diamonds. It's a perfect day, if it happens to be the middle of December.
My little lighted deer out back all wear icy garments. Some of them are animated, and it will be interesting to see what happens tonight when the timer turns them on. Will they still light up? Will they move?
A friend commented earlier today that Christmas no longer holds the same magic for him as it did years ago, and he mentioned a grandmother who has gone to her Lord, and how her passing seemed to rob the joy of the season for the rest of the family. He described how he finally hit bottom and then began a slow rebound, but doubts he will ever find the same thrill in Christmas that he once did.
Oh my. How well I understand that. I would imagine that almost any adult who is middle-aged or older would have at least some comprehension of what he meant. Most families do have at least one central figure, the person who seems to hold the reins of everyone else's happiness during the holiday time. It's usually a woman, most likely a grandmother, and she's the one who bakes the cookies, plans the gatherings, does the shopping, wraps the gifts and decorates the house. She may even make a fruitcake in spite of the teasing from the rest of the family.
My mom was a very Christmassy person, and she conveyed that spirit and love of the holiday to me. As I grew older, and my own family emerged, somehow she and I managed to share the responsibilities and the planning without any conflict. As she began to tire more easily, I took over more of the work of the season and helped her with her tree and much of the cooking and baking. For a number of years, we had it all worked out.
Then in 1996 I lost my husband very suddenly, and with him went all my spirit and joy for Christmas and everything else, for that matter. I went through the motions each year because I had to, but not because I wanted to. In 1999, my mom joined him in Heaven, and in the next couple of years a newborn grandson returned to his Maker, and then my father left us as well, in 2003.
I suppose that was my year of "hitting bottom". There seemed to be no point in decorating or baking or doing any of the traditional things, but somehow, I did. I had tremendous help from my son, who comes every year and puts the lights up on my house, and makes it so beautiful. A dear friend came and helped me put up my Christmas tree. Other friends invited me here and there, and somehow, Christmas came and went.
And now, I am so happy to report, Christmas seems to be a happy time again. Deep in my heart, Christmas was always there - the real Christmas. The love, the promise, the warm security that can be found in that humble stable. The Child that was born there, and placed in the crude little manger did not remain an infant, helpless and dependent. He grew up, and in time He laid down His life for me, for all of us. He died, but that still wasn't all of it. He rose again after three days, and is now in Heaven with the Father.
He's not alone there. My husband, my parents, my grandson - all the loved ones whom I've lost are also there, because they were His children, bought with the price of His blood. And because I'm His child, a true believer, I know that I'll see the ones I love again.
The pain of immediate loss, the loneliness at holiday times, all these things are inevitable. We all go through them. However, at some point, most of us "hit bottom" and realize that we can't go on that way forever. We finally reach a point where we remember that the loss is not permanent. We start to look forward, in a sense, to our own homegoing. Being able to do that also makes it possible to experience a sense of joy and contentment in the everyday things of life, and especially in the holidays and special times that once seemed so lonely. It removes the sharp edge from the here and now.
Oh, there are still moments, when those little pangs of grief hit us. A sentimental Christmas movie, a beloved carol, the warm scent of favorite cookies baking, the crackle of the fireplace - all have the power to call scenes to mind that are so dear, but so painful at the same time. Those times can still be difficult, but through the mercy of God and time, we can find the joy and peace and sweetness once again.
Speaking for myself, I can say now that I never really lost those things, though I thought I did. As unexpected upwellings of joy flood my soul, and beloved carols ring in my mind, I now realize that I had just misplaced them for a while.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Forty Years Later
1 day ago