I watch as the snow falls, forming a blanket of white on the green grass. It's November and the holidays are almost here. While I used to look forward to this time of year, I now fight mixed emotions. Empty places at our table serve as painful reminders of what took place two years ago, when my mother and 3-year-old niece, Ali, were killed in a car accident. Every day since their deaths has had its own struggles, but the holidays are heartwrenching.
Unpacking decorations is overwhelming because each trimming evokes another memory. Christmas carols trigger tears. Gifts given and gifts received feel empty and meaningless. What used to be "the most wonderful time of the year" is now almost unbearable. Instead of reveling in the warmth of the season, all I can think is, Let's just get this over with.
Christmas was my mom's favorite holiday and she loved to be with her family sharing special traditions. Mom's favorite tradition took place on Christmas Eve, when she would bake a birthday cake for Jesus and explain to all her grandchildren the symbolism of each layer and what each decoration represented (see sidebar). It was Mom's hope that her grandchildren know the true meaning of Christmas. But our first year without her was too difficult, so Jesus' birthday cake went unmade.
It's unfortunate that grief sometimes sends us spinning inward and away from those who truly care about us, including God. But in the midst of my grief, God reminded me that my children were suffering, too. They missed their grandmother and cousin and all the festivities our family was accustomed to. I needed to help them do what my mom tried to do?focus on God's love for us and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It certainly hasn't been easy, but in his grace God has guided us through two painful holiday seasons and allowed my family to feel the joy and peace of his presence.
When your family suffers a loss, the holiday season can reopen emotional wounds you thought had healed. Our family discovered several coping strategies that allowed us to celebrate Jesus' birth in the midst of our grief.
Taking Time Out
Grieving is a long process that needs time and attention. My mom and niece died on March 10, 1999. When summer arrived I found myself trying to "busy away" my grief. I continued my duties as director of Vacation Bible School, which took up valuable family time. Looking back, I wish I had taken a lesser role and made more family time to allow for rest and opportunities to talk about how we were feeling.