While for many of us, Christmas will be a very, or relatively, merry affair, for some, it may not. If you have lost a loved one, a job, your good bill of health, your home, or your relationship over the last year, then Christmas might involve coping with that empty chair, or that other gaping loss that most likely will lead to some painful reflective moments on what has been, versus what is now.
12 years ago, I lost a dear friend after heart surgery. She was an awesome person; intelligent, capable, fun, loving, grounded in the real and meaningful things of life, comforting, and always ‘there’ for me and all those she loved. Intermittent with the shock of loosing her came the devastation, the disbelief, the sorrow, the despairing pointlessness of it all, because in my mind, dying in her thirties, she had not exhausted her potential as that great human being she was, in her many roles in life and in the many lives she touched.
That first Christmas after her passing, I remember thinking how inappropriate Christmas carols seemed in the world. I reckoned that if, each year, millions of people around the world lost loved ones, that it was surely always going to be an affront to their wounds to hear jingly, jangly songs, at one of the most poignant and difficult times for them? Was it not also crass and insulting to the souls departed that the world celebrated so brashly when something tamer might be more appropriate?
I remember too that the more, ‘Merry Christmas’s I heard people utter, the sadder I felt. The notion of being ‘merry’ seemed so alien to the deep, dark, raw, vacuum inside of me. TV ads encouraging me to focus on copious amounts of food and drink to fill me up also seemed gross. Voiceovers telling me that any number of ‘things’ would make me feel happy seemed absurd. How clueless they seemed of life’s tough realities. How stupid too, to think that ‘things’ could heal the raw ache of a soul, lonely for the soul of a loved one?
The truth was, the happier everyone else was, the sadder I was. Christmas carols made me weep, hugs too. Christmas lights seemed only to come in blur form that year, as each time my eyes landed on them, my tear ducts overflowed. When people tried to cheer me up by saying my friend was in a better place now, there was no comfort, because heaven seemed like a gazillion miles away, just re-enforcing the distance between us.
The funny thing was my friend loved Christmas. In fact, she was known to sometimes sing Jingle Bells mid-summer. And by her own admission, she hadn’t the best singing voice, making her out of season crooning sound even more funny. When it came to the season itself, she was keen on wearing festive Santa hats, on celebrating with friends and family, on keeping up traditions, on making her special Christmas Day trifle, on getting into the Christmas spirit and Christmas spirits too!
While the memories of these aspects of my friend brought fresh smiles and fresh aches that year, there was also something deeper entwined in them too…
When we loose someone, we often wonder what that very person would make of the situation and what they would say to us. The memories and essence of her at Christmas gave me the clues.
I could imagine so clearly her showing up in my darkest hours of grief for her, arms around me saying she knew how desperate it all was, but that she would help me get through it. I knew she would comfort me in my grief, offer understanding to my pain and just ‘be there’ through the hardest moments, arms around my shoulders, tugging me close in frequent little hugs to re-enforce the sincerity of her promises.
But I knew too that after a certain number of tears and comforting and understanding would come the encouragement to reach for something better for me and for her. She would say I had to live even bigger now, because of the loss of her, because now I was living my human life for the two of us. She would have told me to take every opportunity and moment to celebrate every bit of life I could out of respect for the fact that I still had one to live. She would have told me that wasting my life only on tears and sorrow and grief for her would misrepresent the joy of her being and would make miserable the legacy of her life, which was so steeped in fun, love and light. She would have told me that if I didn’t make the effort to enjoy the precious life I still had, in spite of the loss of her, that she would, frankly, be disappointed in me.
Spurred by this, I managed to pull Christmas out of the bag that year. I allowed my children’s excitement and Santa’s arrival and all kinds of lovely things to consciously touch my heart, because I knew she would want me to. Yes, there were times where the tears and sadness took the lead as I went through Christmas that year and other years, and that was OK and necessary too, but out of respect to her and life, I had to actively work at not allowing them take centre stage all of the time.
This year, I have Covid in the house… one of my sons. He will be isolating in his room through Christmas present opening, Christmas dinner and lots more. Yes, it’s a bit depressing but technology will be the tool that connects the living this year, just as memory is the tool that connects us to those in our past. So my son will be up on the kitchen table in laptop form while we all eat dinner together. It’s not ideal, but once again we will aim for happiness amidst the challenging, rather than letting the sorrow of the situation take centre stage.
For those of you experiencing any form of loss this year, I wish for you too that you can, in spite of the pain of loss, allow the rays of light and happiness to shine, with knowledge that your enjoyment of Christmas moments is not an affront, or denial of your loss, but all the more important because of it.
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