Christmas: a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules we find ourselves in. But Christmas is more than a nice diversion – a blip on the radar screen of our hectic lives.
For a moment in time, we escaped the drudgery, the pressures, anxiety, and uncertainties.
For a moment in time, we celebrated with one another and shared gifts.
For a moment in time, we humbly knelt before the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate.
For a moment in time, we laid down our heavy burdens of doubt and fear and unanswered questions.
And now Christmas is over for another year: the torn wrappings stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup, bows packed away to use again next year. Families have returned home, and we collapse in an easy chair, take a deep sigh and try to relax.
Earlier this month, the Skagit Valley Chorale gave two performances at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon, WA. Joining with our 100+ singing group was a band that complemented so many of the pieces we sang.
It isn’t just the audience who enjoys our performances, but those of us who are a part of this chorale and who love the opportunity to sing under the direction of our talented and gifted director, Dr. Adam Burdick.
It is the tradition that at the end of our Christmas concerts the members of the chorale go down into the aisles of the audience to sing our closing number, “Peace, Peace.” It is a moving experience for both singers and those in attendance.
A friend of mine who came for the first time to one of our concerts told me afterwards that when we sang “Peace, Peace” in the aisles surrounding them on all sides, it was like having an “invisible blanket of peace wrapped around me.”
No matter where we are in our grief journey, or how long ago our loved one died, when holidays come, we are reminded of how special they were in our lives.
How can we possibly celebrate the holidays without them?
To help understand what it means to celebrate our loved ones, let me share a personal story.
When my husband and I moved to Washington, it was because we wanted to spend our retirement years enjoying boating in the San Juan Islands. We moved into a community where others also loved cruising, joined their yacht club and spent many happy hours with people who became good friends.
When my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, without a moment’s hesitation, a friend started a list of people who would be willing to take him to his radiation treatments 5 days a week.
I was asked once if I thought the only way we would discover God was through pain or loss.
I’ve thought a lot about that. Surely it doesn’t take tragedies to experience God. And yet, I think it does. Maybe it’s only when we are overwhelmed, broken, and “poor in spirit” – when we cannot find the resources within ourselves – that we are ready to acknowledge our need for God.
We are physically born in pain. And perhaps that is the only way we can be born spiritually as well.
Pain wears many faces: the pain of sorrow and loss, emptiness, and disillusion; the pain of guilt and shame, rejection and abandonment. Within all forms of emotional pain, we find ourselves struggling to find the answers and resources we need to satisfy our yearning.
When we have lost something of great importance, our lives are forever changed.
With most unwanted changes, we make an adjustment and move on; life resumes and basically remains the same. It is when something of great significance and deep emotional attachment has been taken away, that our life becomes radically changed.
Losses are personal.
Nobody but you can determine how important a loss is. A child who has just lost a beloved pet or toy experiences sadness at a deeper level than we might think. Their attachment to that pet and toy was extremely important to them. It is essential that we respect a child’s grief and help them through it instead of dismissing it.
“This can’t be happening. There was so little warning. He had been so healthy. There was no time to prepare. I’m numb. What do I do now?”
This begins Chapter 1 in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.
Our first reaction of any kind to an unexpected tragedy, crisis, or loss is usually shock and disbelief. We are unprepared for the enormity of how our world has been turned upside down and inside out.
The world we knew has just ended and we struggle to accept what is happening. Denial storms into our existence as we try to wrap our brain around this loss.
Even when we are prepared for a loss that is the result of a long-term illness, it brings with it sadness and sorrow. The illness itself might have been premature and unexpected. They were too young to get sick; he was so healthy, etc. Whether we are prepared or not, grief demands its own time frame to work through the tangles of disbelief and unreality.
There are many layers connected to the loss of someone you loved. It isn’t just the person we grieve; it is everything associated with the life we shared: the fun times, meals together, the friends we associated with, and the sharing of everyday life. There were times of serious discussions or debates around differences.
It was knowing that someone was there who shared your life, even when there was no conversation or when one of you was away from home for long periods of time. It is that comfortable resting spot of knowing you are not alone even when apart – that familiarity that complements and completes both lives. You planned together, fought together, and considered options for your future together. You bounced ideas off each other for almost every aspect of living.
Grieving was some of the hardest work I have ever done. When my husband died after forty-two years of marriage, I looked for resources to help me through the process. The books available at that time were either too clinical or singular in purpose, such as memoirs.
We have come a long way from those days when the focus was simply on getting people through the early days and months after a loss. It is now recognized that grieving includes the need to focus on how to rebuild your life.
Losses are Part of Life
Throughout our lifetime we will experience losses. Most are small or minor; we negotiate the change and move on, such as typical life changes. We might feel sad about what we are giving up but are looking forward to what the future holds.