It is December, and the world feels too loud, too fast, and too demanding.
“Happy, Merry and Joyful” greet me at every turn, but in all honesty, the words and traditions associated with the Holidays often leave me wishing for a quiet place to hide until the advent of a new year. Time has undoubtedly muted the sharp sting of loss, but emotions are not governed by time and space. Someone is missing, and even the most joyful events are elementally complicated.
Almost five years after Keith’s death, I am learning that there is no roadmap. When someone we love dies, grief moves in. It sits at the kitchen table, and it hovers at family events. And though we attempt to crowd it out thinking that without space it will leave, grief will instead cram itself into corners and closets. The ache is no longer loud and constant. It is quieter, like a prickly sweater that, on occasion, chafes my skin. I work, I parent, I love, and I live productively, even in the shadow of new and emerging loss.
We have adopted a new normal of sorts, with new traditions and measured expectations sweetly seasoned with grace and hope. Still, there are no unique postures, times, limitations, or joyful seasons that restrict the impact of loss. Be gentle with those who grieve in the shadow of twinkling lights and merry wishes. They feel the weariness of life and death in this world. They needn’t be reminded to rejoice. Compassion means to suffer alongside. When we sit with people in their darkness, it’s not so lonely there.
It seems paradoxical to so openly invite grief to the table during a time set aside to focus on the celebration of the birth of Christ. But there is more to the Christmas story than the baby in a manger, because nestled in the shadow of the cradle is the cross. The Christ of Bethlehem is of little value apart from the Christ of Calvary. It is the cross that gives meaning to Christmas.
Life is different today. I pay close attention to the memories stimulated by my senses as the holiday season begins, and rather than allow myself to be stuck in what was, I gently invite the Christmas that is. In my Christmas, there is room for anger and regret, for sadness and nostalgia, for humor and happy, for silence and rest, and merry and joy. By making room for grief, we have drawn it out of the darkness and into the light in the most beautiful, weary, and compelling way, much like the infant Savior in the shadow of the cross.