I admit, unabashedly, that I love Christmas. Yes, I try to keep “the reason for the season” at the forefront. Yes, I tend to go overboard – too many decorations, too many gifts, too much rushing around, too many late nights wrapping gifts, too many moments of unnecessary petty irritation, and the list goes on. Yes, I love and hate to bake, but this is the time I’m willing to make the effort – mainly Moravian Sugar Cake, Christmas “Bark” and Date Nut Balls. Yes, I secretly enjoy most Christmas letters, those that would lead you to believe the writer’s kids are the smartest, most successful on the planet, and even those that relate the not-so-wonderful moments in my friends’ lives.
But this week I was reminded, certainly not for the first time, that Christmas can be bittersweet.
While I am happy to focus on my children and grandchildren, friends and festive activities, I am occasionally slapped in the face with all those not-so-happy moments that tend to come to mind at Christmas.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas I think we are much more aware of family and what those people in our lives mean to us.
I just saw a commercial that points out that Christmas can be the most depressing time of year, and we need to go easy on some folks. The bad that has happened in our lives is exacerbated by the joy that others seem to be focused on at Christmas, and we need to be sensitive to that.
In my own life, it would be easy to dwell on those sad times. For example, it has been 38 years since I had a late term miscarriage on Dec. 22. What started as a most joyous holiday season – our son Mac was nearly 2 (a great age for the wonders of Christmas), and we were focused on the prospect of a new child in our lives – turned into a nightmare. Tom arrived at the hospital around 4 a.m., and the nurse happily reported, “Oh, she’s in delivery” – the nurse obviously had not taken note that this “delivery” was at 22 weeks and probably was not a good thing. When we exited the hospital, I was asked to sign my child’s death certificate – I lost it completely. And nobody tells you when you miscarry that late, that when you get home you’ll begin to lactate for the child that is no more. Yes, a nightmare. Despite the joys that followed – mainly twins born to us 14 months later – for at least the next 15 years (and, to some extent, even today) I would find myself in a blue funk and wouldn’t understand why until I looked at the calendar and realized it was Dec. 22.
Tom’s grandmother died on Christmas Day 27 years ago. We had no idea she was that close to death. She died in the hospital – alone. I will always feel guilt over that.
Then our son-in-law’s older sister, Christy, contracted spinal meningitis and died suddenly on Dec. 6 four years ago. I think of her family often. I cannot imagine losing a child, and near Christmas seems particularly cruel.
And this year, we’re not facing a tragedy, but we are making adjustments in how we view our family. Tom’s dad is 95-1/2, and over Thanksgiving my husband went up to Virginia to assist his sister as his dad transitions to a new – and likely final – phase of his life. Tom’s dad has lived in the same home for the last 65 years. In recent months, he has acknowledged that living at home alone may not be the best choice. In the last week he has moved into an assisting living home. And while he knows this is better for him, giving up the independence of living on his own is not easy. He alternates between being content and being very depressed about this move. So as Christmas approaches we can be glad that he is safe, but we also enter this season with some trepidation regarding his mindset.
But the point of this is not to depress you – or me. As I said, I saw a commercial reminding us to recognize Christmas is not always a time of great cheer for everyone.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by my three children and their spouses, seven grandchildren and a few special friends, all of whom make this season brighter. At the same time, the joy of Christmas can still yield to moments of sadness for what – or who – isn’t there.
Our church acknowledges the complexity of this holiday with a “Service of Comfort and Hope,” usually planned for the second Sunday of Advent. The service is listed as “a quiet, meditative communion and candle-lighting service” that “provides a worship experience for those who face the holidays in their own season of sadness.” I have often found solace in this service, as well as a sort of “re-centering” on what the holidays should be about.
So as we are caught up in the hustle and bustle that comes with this season, I’m trying to remember to think about what it may mean for others whom I encounter – a friend recently widowed, another friend recovering from major surgery, a couple of friends dealing with health issues and so many who are depressed for any number of reasons.
When Mim Woodring was still alive, she would put together “Because we care” baskets for recently widowed women in North Augusta. Even after she, herself, became a widow, she continued to remember others around her who were facing the holidays alone for the first time.
We could all take a lesson from Mim. Christmas is a time of joy, and it’s also a time to show a little extra kindness to those around us.