Finding Comfort and Joy During Christmas
By: Charles Romans
Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. In warmer climates, it is celebrated beneath palm trees and summer attire. In colder climates, we see the more classic Christmas décor and people bundled up against the chill, becoming part of the festive decorations themselves as they move through a winter wonderland suitable for any Hallmark Christmas movie. People at least make the effort to be friendly during the season and are quicker to smile and offer well wishes. And whether you choose to celebrate the season as the birth of Jesus or are of a different faith and still in need of joy, Christmas is the season that soothes both the soul and tempers as we remember that smiles are indeed free and give them away to everyone we meet.
Still, if we were unfortunate enough to have lost a loved one either before or during this most festive of seasons then the wonder of Christmas can seem to add to our burden. Brightly colored lights strung like multicolored pearls from the gables of roofs or chasing the mantelpiece serve to remind us that our loved ones can no longer share the sight with us. The yule log once burning brightly beneath those lights has dimmed for us, leaving a cold hearth and bitter ashes in our hearts. We smile sadly and turn away each time someone offers to share some of their own joy with a “Merry Christmas.” This isn’t that we wish to dim their joy but the exact opposite, in fact. We simply pull our own grief and loss tightly to us and move away so that everyone else will not lose the magic of their own Christmas by sharing in our pain.
However, if we are able to look through the pain, perhaps we can remember what this season meant to those same loved ones we so terribly miss.
My mother-in-law Polly passed away this year, leaving behind a son, a daughter, and three grandchildren who simply adored her. Christmas was an important time of year to her for a long list of reasons. She loved the lights, she loved shopping, she loved cooking and eating Christmas food. She fussed over her tree and her decorations, and always had to have “one more present” for her loved ones, even if only to fill “stockings” that quickly overflowed and turned into larger bags and boxes. And still, she always felt as if she hadn’t given enough or done enough to bring holiday joy to those she cared about. She had of course – she always did, and everyone else knew it.
And holiday complaints? Of course, she had those, but they were always followed by insisting that she do more of the very things she complained about because she was just “fussing” after all. Polly made and kept traditions, like snacking all day up until dinner was ready or watching whatever parade happened to be on television. If you commented that you liked a particular snack then it was always ready in large quantities, such as the overfilled containers of “mud cookies” I like so well. Not to give away too much of my lazy tendencies, but I had mud cookies before and after dinner – and she even let me fall asleep in her favorite recliner afterward.
Those wonderful memories are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I appreciated her sense of humor, and the fact that she at least tolerated mine. I used to tell her that she had a wonderful family if it weren’t for some of her in-laws (meaning myself, of course), to which she would just smile and shake her head. I was glad to have made her happy dropping off a chicken biscuit in the morning, especially when they were buy-one- get-one-free because when she offered to pay me for it, I could tell her she got the “free” one. Now, I haven’t eaten a chicken biscuit since she passed away. Don’t know if I ever will…
So, how do we enjoy the season when the star atop the tree has gone out? The other lights are still twinkling, but somehow the illumination seems almost desperate. Joy itself seems almost pointless when there is a shadow over our hearts, and all we want to do is extinguish the other lights and withdraw into the darkness with our grief and push the world away. No amount of joy the rest of the world is feeling helps to fill the hole in our hearts either, but rather the joy of others has an opposite effect. It only serves to make that hole seem deeper and our loss more profound. I know if left to my own devices, I would hibernate until spring…
But then I think of Polly.
Those who truly love us never want to cause us pain. She would be the first to encourage her family to enjoy the season — all seasons, for that matter. I believe that she would acknowledge the sadness of her family and friends but encourage them to smile and look for the joy in not only the season but life as well. Laugh and cry with the memories and make more memories with those you love. Grieve, yes, but also live your life to the fullest. The best way to honor those who have gone before us is to keep their joy alive. And remember, that a smile is still a smile, even through a veil of tears. I will miss you. Always. And until we meet again, Merry Christmas to all of us.