Grieving at Christmastime

Christmas can be challenging at the best of times what with the stress of buying presents, shopping for food or clothes, cooking, cleaning, sending cards, going for season-of-cheer get-togethers, work ‘do’s, excessive sugar, lack of sleep, alcohol/sweets at every turn, visiting family, awkward meetings with ‘ex’s, situations that happen once a year or every couple of years, running out of time, running up bills. I’m getting overwhelmed just writing about it.

Add into this messy mix a loss. Whether it is a result of death. A divorce. An estrangement in the family. Or even the loss of something that was killing you but in your denial you thought it was the only thing that helped you get through the day – be it alcohol or other drugs (prescribed or street or over the counter varieties). Any of these losses creates lots of feelings – sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, guilt, shame. Loss also creates a great sense of vulnerability and a desire to isolate.

Trying to escape the four walls closing in can bring you right up against places filled with families, couples, and parents with young kids. TV commercials showing the joys of the seasons are no more help than all the shows with old songs full of memories or tear-jerker films.

There are all kinds of platitudes including ‘It is just another day.’ ‘Twenty-four hours and it will all be over,’ ‘Remember the reason for the season.’

Decades ago when my children were small and I was a single parent I struggled to be able to do what I could to make Christmas okay. I was helped by a very spiritual friend who reminded me that all the stress I was feeling, the confusion, the powerlessness was the actual spiritual reality of Christmas as experienced by Mary and Joseph on their arduous fifty mile journey, Mary nine months pregnant travelling on a donkey. Crowds made accomodation, food, safety almost impossible. It helped me to calm down and be grateful for what I had and what I could offer my children.

This year I lost my brother the first weekend in December. He was a healthy, fit, happy sixty-two year old. It was sudden. Unexplained as yet. Grace for him as he died in his sleep, but very hard for all of us left behind. So this Christmas involved loss for me once again. I had to dig deep for the strength to stay positive, feel my feelings and accept the grace each day brought. Someone said to me ‘Oh, your brother decided to go home and spend Christmas with the Lord.’ My mind buckled a bit with that idea.

As I journeyed with this grief for someone I loved very much, I felt quite vulnerable, powerless, sad, lost and in need of help and affection. Again I was assisted by an unexpected suggestion from a different spiritual friend who like years ago reminded me these feelings are central to the reality of Christmas. But not about Mary or Joseph this time. Rather it was about the baby with his arms reaching up, full of needs, absolutely vulnerable and powerless, needing love and affection and minding. So I let go of my pride and have allowed others to hold me, love me, and mind me and given myself permission to receive their love. I’ve also for the first time lifted the baby in the manger to me and brought him into my heart so I could love him and hold him there as long as he needs or wants me to. At times I have also pictured my infant self laying next to baby Jesus arms reaching out to others as he shows me and asking to be held and comforted.

It has been a strange Christmas. A different Christmas. And I’ve had the company of the best source of all Joy. Also,I’ve had the comfort of knowing my beloved brother is being held in those arms of unending Light and Unconditional Love. ‘Sleep in heavenly Peace, Robby.’