When Christmas Feels Tender and Raw

Model of Hancock Congregational ChurchI treasure this photo. It’s a model of our Meetinghouse made last year by Bob and Carrie Anderson. Bob is a tool and die maker and you can see that precision in his handiwork. I love its delicate coating of glitter. Not today’s garish, neon-colored glitter that screams for attention in so many Christmas decorations, but the gentler sparkle of yesterday. It’s the kind of glitter that dusted the German Advent calendars of my childhood. Of course, that was back when Advent Calendar doors hid Bible verses instead of chocolate and gin. Sadly, the gin option is for real. For $130, there’s a company that will ship you a “Ginvent Calendar” loaded up with 24 drams of gin.

But I digress. I also treasure this photo because Carrie is no longer with us. She lost a spirited fight with cancer last January. It’s always sobering for me to sit down in December and begin compiling my year-end report, a feature of which is a list of the people I have baptized, married and buried. This year is like others. I have buried people I knew and loved and prayed with, but also people I never met.

Whether I knew them or not, what every name on that somber list has in common is that the death it represents leaves a shadow across Christmas for loved ones left behind. At the very least, it makes for a tender Christmas, but more often a raw one.

Over the years, I have scoured scores of how-to articles about coping with grief around the holidays. I tend to agree with Jan Richardson that their focus on ”strategic approaches” and “grief management” may not always suffice. As Richardson writes, “Grief is a wild creature. Grief will resist every attempt to tame it, control it, or to keep it tidy and well-behaved.”

She knows whereof she speaks. Jan Richardson, a talented painter and writer, lost her husband unexpectedly at the beginning of Advent three years ago. One of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve ever read on the subject of grief at Christmas is This Luminous Darkness, a post that she shared on her blog last December. It’s worth a look even if you are not struck down by sadness yourself this Christmas; worth a share if you know someone who is.

Sometimes we just have to let our grief be and stop trying to stomp it out. It may not be possible to eradicate it—at least not this year. We have to trust that someday our emotions will not feel as fragile as tinsel. And that the merry of Christmas will return. When it does, we may even find that the grief has somehow enriched us—giving us a sense of ourselves as stronger than we thought, reminding us of the preciousness of life, prompting us to go after experiences we used to relegate to our “someday” lists.

But grief will not be rushed. I pray that if this is a season of sad and silent nights for you, that you may find in them yet a little of the promised calm and bright, and some of the peace that passes all understanding.

 

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