“With kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, ‘be of good cheer.'” Can you hear the music? The ringing of the bells and the caroling? The tree lighting ceremonies have passed and the sleigh has arrived. The season is in full swing.
I return from a beautiful visit from a canyon right outside the big city, San Diego, where the palms don ornaments and lights. And, the music comes to a scratching halt for some, for me. Like the sound from an old record player when the needle jumps across an album as the room shakes. My world is shaken and the music stops.
I step off the plane and exit reticently into the polar vortex that is Michigan and I whine and I groan. Tears, real tears fill my dry eyes, not from the cold, but I am overcome with sorrow and sadness. It almost takes me by surprise. I am sad to leave my kids in San Diego, especially following such a lovely visit. I missed them terribly even before leaving the house. Surely I’m sorrowful that I’m so torn between my home state with all of my loves who still reside there and the warm, sunny, mountainous place I just left where some of my loves reside. Then there’s Florida, a short, inexpensive plane ride into the warm sun, where more of my loves are and still, a number more in southern Illinois, not nearly so far and not nearly as bitter as Michigan. Clearly, I do not handle the cold well at all. It is, after all, cold. But no, that can’t be it. Is this enough to make me cry real tears?
On December 29, 2013, at the early age of 58 years old, my brother-in-law made an unexpected exit from this earth, leaving a wife, three daughters, three grandchildren, and many other family members stunned and shaken. Four days after Christmas! Two days after his and my sister’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary!
August 30, 2016, my mother-in-law of nearly thirty-one years, went to be our Lord after several years of illness.
On January 5, 2016, the gavel came down, granting the final decree and the judge dismissed us. A few weeks later the paperwork came. We are divorced. I am divorced. After nearly 31 years, married to the same man, I’m divorced. Yes, I filed. Yes, it was my choice to dissolve it. To put an end to years, decades of something that just never worked. I made a decision to leave, but I didn’t choose to end my dream, my hope, my vision of what I thought my life would be like when I grew up.
All I ever wanted in life was to have a family, a husband, children. Then as they grew and married, grandchildren. A legacy. To be surrounded by those I bore, those that I love and those they love, that I gave my life for. That has not been dissolved, but it has changed. There is a certain shifting of my world. It is shaken. I wanted to have the home they would run to when they didn’t know where to run. The soft place to land when things were hard. Sunday dinner. Morning coffee. Afternoon or evening stroll. Perhaps a trip to the movie theater every once in a while.
“It’s the hap-happiest season of all…..There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.”
Darling, I know you are also still riveting from your loss. That devastation that would change even the way you walk, the way you breathe, the way you don’t breathe. From that moment and forever, there is a shift. No matter how recent or how long ago they left, you’re still standing, gasping, holding onto that last breath you took the moment you learned of their passing. Some days you catch yourself breathing normal, laughing normal, but most days are not that way.
You know they wouldn’t want it this way. You know they wouldn’t want you to grieve so hard, for so long. But grief, this kind of grief just cannot be told how to behave. No more than breath can be told how to breathe. So we breathe, so we grieve.
As I return to my cozy apartment, to my little dog I haven’t seen in a week, it’s a stark reminder of my loneliness. My alone-ness. There’s a wreath on the door, a snowman soap dispenser, and a snowman candle holder. That’s it. That’s all the Christmas you’ll find in my apartment. I just haven’t had the heart to decorate. Why bother? Nobody is going to see it anyway. It is at this point I realize, it hits me, hard. I’m going to be alone on Christmas. My heart thumps, then skips a beat, thumps hard inside of me, and my throat begins to close. For the next day-and-a-half, my throat feels like it is in anaphylaxis. I can’t stop it. I can’t tell it to go away, no more than I can tell grief not to grieve, or tell breath how to breathe.
It takes another day or so, but I begin to get my heart around the idea. I receive an invitation from a friend, and then another. I extend an invitation and I realize I’m not alone. Things are not as I planned, as I dreamed they would be, and yes, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt. But isn’t this what Christmas is really about? Isn’t it just this reason that God sent a Savior? He came to heal this hurt, your hurt. He came to mend this brokenness, your brokenness. He came to comfort our mourning and to teach us to love and serve one another.
We know it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. Really, the child inside, the Jesus-loving child inside that is still alive with wonder wants it to be. So, we move. Slow. Measured. Movement. Forward. We put on our ugly sweaters and paint on a smile. Maybe put a wreath on the door, a string of lights around a window, and go in search of the perfectly, imperfect spruce, donning it now with 30 years of homemade ornaments you couldn’t fathom leaving packed away.
We adjust the needle on the old phonograph and thoughts of the babe in the manger flood our minds. The One adored on bended knee fills our every thought, while Andy Williams belts out the best rendition.
It is, after all, “the most wonderful time of the year……”