Christmas is “the best time of the year” as the song goes; a time filled with family and togetherness. But what if one member of the family is missing and the feeling of togetherness is tainted with loss? What if that missing person is your child? This is my scenario and likely yours if you are reading this blog.
You may be thinking, ‘My child has died and yet everyone expects me to be merry. Yah right!’ Or maybe you hope that the spirit of the season will carry you away as you have great expectations for a holiday full of joy.
I realized something this week as I pondered these things: Christmas is not perfect.
Even without factoring in the loss of a child, Christmas is not the flawless “best time of the year” we tend to expect. It is often stressful.
Maybe you spent too much money on gifts and are biting your nails over finances. Maybe your in-laws drive you nuts and your partner expects you to spend a week with them over the holidays. Quite likely your routine will go out the window along with your diet as your well meaning friend brings over a heaping plate of dessert. Maybe you planned the perfect Christmas dinner but the blasted turkey burns in the oven. Maybe everything falls into place and you are genuinely happy but then your company leaves and you are lonely.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel miffed by the absence of the lofty dream of Christmas once it actually arrives. I am not trying to be a Grinch here. My point is simply that our expectations often get us into trouble.
What if we didn’t worry about our waist line for a few days? Or laughed instead of cried at the charbroiled turkey? What if we gave the gift of quality time instead of racking up credit card debt? Or accept our in-laws for who they are and instead of grumbling, decide to roll with the punches?
Where am I going with all this? Let me tell you!
When we are missing our children this Christmas (or missing our grandparent, parent, friend, lover) and we cry out in despair, “How am I expected to have a merry Christmas?!?!” Please remember, Christmas is not a perfect holiday to begin with. The absence of this important person will not ruin your perfect Christmas.
Christmas is the celebration of family, humanity, new beginnings, faith and life – and all these things are imperfect, messy, flawed and yet wonderful, amazing and beautiful at the same time.
Christmas is not about perfection.
So what do we do? How do we cope with our loss while everyone around us seems to be happy and chugging onwards on the togetherness train and none of our expectations for the season seem to lift our spirits?
Just like no one person is perfect, this time of year is imperfect. We accept those we love despite their flaws and are immensely thankful they do the same for us. Acceptance is key in grief. We do not need to push off anger that our child has died and pretend everything is okay. Let yourself be angry. Be genuine. Cry at the empty seat at the table this Christmas dinner.
Even though Christmas is not perfect, it is a time of hope. My son Zachary was supposed to be a Christmas baby. He was born two months early because of his condition but everything about this season reminds me of what I have lost – and yet, I hope and accept where I am at. We can’t change our past but our present feelings are within our control. I am going to try to focus on all my blessings, be present in the moment and realize that I am alive and well, that I have people in my life who love me and whom I love.
My heart aches for my son but I have come to regard this ach not as unwelcome pain but as the blessing of remembrance. I am thankful for this remembrance because I never want to forget the short life of my son, Zachary. I am thankful for him in a million ways. His life and death have transformed every part of me for the better and that is what I will celebrate this perfectly imperfect Christmas.