The spirit of Christmas is in the air! From the smell of freshly cut evergreens to stockings hung by the fireplace with care, from stores overflowing with people to the glittering lights – we are intensely aware of the season we are now in. As the popular tune goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” For people grieving the loss of a cherished loved one though, it can be the most painful time of the year. Whether suffering from a physical or emotional loss, the onset of the holidays can evoke a wide range of feelings. From loneliness to despair, from jealousy to anger – the sights, smells and traditions of the season frequently heighten the emotions of one grieving a great loss. Losing a loved one is a deep and difficult alteration of life at any time, but the holidays can magnify the sense of loss and mourning. Family gatherings and seasonal events become painful reminders of the loved one’s absence. You may just long for the season to be over, so the heightened pain can go away.
The pain of loss goes as deep as our love. When we love deeply, we grieve deeply.
I vividly remember celebrating Christmas the year my son Dominic died at the tender age of 4 months from SIDS. He was scheduled to be baby Jesus in the Nativity play that year, but he was no longer with us to play that role. I remember just looking at a manger that year, often caused a steady flow of tears. The first year after a great loss is always the most difficult. As time goes on and healing takes place, the pain becomes less and less intense.
Last weekend as we were putting ornaments are on our Christmas tree, I observed how my two oldest children have an array of ornaments that were gifted to them over the years by my mother, while my younger three children have only a few ornaments, if any. It was a simple, yet tender reminder to me of the loss of my mother 3 years ago. While the pain of that memory flooded my heart in the moment, I was able to continue in joy because I have had time to appropriately heal from the wound of her death. Furthermore, I am keenly aware of the blessings that have come from one of my greatest losses in my life.
Although the sting of losing a loved one never fully leaves us, the gift of time combined with the grace of God that gives us HOPE – allows the wound to heal instead of just being numbed.
This Christmas season, if you are dealing with the pain of loss, remember that you are not alone and that there is HOPE! Hope does not remove the pain of loss, but rather gives purpose and meaning to the grieve you are experiencing. Hope is the confident expectation that God CAN and WILL make something beautiful from your wound. Allow yourself time and space to grieve and to heal. Healing begins when you turn your pain over to God and ask him to walk with you on your journey from the pain of loss to the discovery of beauty in the ashes. God does not allow us to suffer without having a meaning and purpose for it. With tears in my eyes as I write this, I know in the moment of such unfathomable pain it is difficult to see clearly and to believe that something beautiful can come from so much devastation, but it can, and it will – in time!
After traveling the road of loss numerous times in my own life through the death of both of my parents 5 months apart, the sudden death of a child, a painful divorce, and the loss of other close relationships – I have witnessed over time how God has used each loss to form me for that for which He created me – my mission here on earth.
Often God uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling.
Suffering also has a way of carving out the fake in us to reveal our authentic self.
As your heart navigates the season of loss amidst the season of hope, do not be afraid to reach out for support when the weight of the pain is too much to bear alone. Remember that it is OK to cry. Seek the wisdom and the empathy of those who have carried a similar cross. There is comfort to be found in sharing with someone who truly understands the ache of your heart. If there are certain situations that you recognize will just be too raw to enter, if it is reasonable, politely excuse yourself.
Your wound needs to properly heal, so treat it with care. Perhaps you have an old wound that keeps resurfacing – indicating that it never properly healed in the first place. Whatever the circumstances are, allow the Divine Physician, that little baby in the manger, Our Lord and Savior who came to save the world that first Christmas night – to tend to your soul, to heal your heart and to give you the greatest gift of all – the gift of HOPE!