I keep our Christmas decorations in narrow plastic bins under our bed. We always pull the dust covered containers out from under the bed in the days following Thanksgiving as we anticipate the coming of Christmas. I remember when Amy and Scott were little - the excitement of opening those bins each year and their joy as they placed the decorations around the house and on the tree.
I vividly remember Christmas, 1995. Amy was in her first year of college at Biola in southern California. Scott was a sophomore at Immanuel High School in Reedley. As was our tradition, we went out to a local Christmas tree farm, and cut down the
tree. Scott wanted to begin decorating the tree immediately. I told him that we were going to wait for Amy to arrive home from college before we decorate the tree. I remember saying, "We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree." And we did.
That was December, 1995. In six short weeks, February 1996, Scott was killed in an accident. As December 1996 rolled around, my words from Christmas past rang in my ears -
"We will always wait until we are all together to decorate the tree."
I could not buy a tree for Christmas. I could not pull the bins out from under the bed. I could not feel the joy of the season.
For ten painful years we did not buy a Christmas tree. We did not decorate the house for Christmas. Although we celebrated the holiday in the homes of friends and family, exchanging gifts and sharing meals, I could not bring myself to touch the ornaments Scott had touched his last Christmas on earth. I could not decorate a tree when our family would never be
again this side of eternity.
I remember thinking, "How long will I go on like this?"
In a feeble attempt to conquer the pain, we decided to try a
Christmas tree farm, and we actually purchased a tree for Christmas in 2005 - ten years since the tree we decorated all together. We bravely brought it home, but that was as far as my courage could take me. The tree remained outside, leaning against the side of the garage.
Christmas 2006 again found us able to purchase a tree for our home. We again bravely brought it home. This time, we placed the tree in the stand, and stood it in its rightful place beside the fireplace in our family room. But, sadly, there it stood; we never decorated it. It just stood there throughout the Christmas season; its bare, empty branches a metaphor for my heart. It was Christmas, but something . . .
. . . was so obviously missing.
Then last year, we purchased one of those
trees, only about four feet tall, that already has lights attached to it. We set it up in its rightful place and I slid the bins out from under our bed. As I opened each bin, I was hit with waves of emotions that brought all the pain and sorrow of losing Scott right back to me. There were the ornaments celebrating his early years. There were the precious trinkets he had made in school. There was the box of
, what Scott called our breakable ornaments when he was little. I pulled out a few items for my grandchildren to hang on the tree and slid the bins back under the bed.
Well, Christmas has come again. This year we decided to have a few friends over to celebrate the season with a Christmas brunch. It sounded like a good idea until I realized that I had set myself up to
to decorate. How could they come to my house and have it not look bleak for Christmas? Yet, how could I face my sorrows stored in those bins under the bed?
I asked Amy if she and the grandchildren could come over to help me. I pulled the bins out from under the bed. Almost immediately upon opening the bins there were once again, shouts of glee as my grandchildren spied some of the decorations for the first time. They joyfully decorated the house and stood back to admire their work. Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was difficult. But it was then that I realized I had to let go of the tight grip I held on my old traditions and embrace new ones . . . new traditions that would have been created even if Scott was still here.
I share my experiences with Christmases Past because Christmas can be one of the saddest times for those who have experienced loss.
If you are one of those who grieves the loss of a dear one, I hope my own experience can bring you some comfort. Everyone's grief is unique and you have the right to
your own journey. It took me ten years to begin to feel like I could face Christmas in a familiar fashion. And then it took another three years to come to the place in my heart where I was ready to create
traditions to build on the old ones. This Christmas, give yourself the gift of listening to your heart. Honor the memories of Christmases Past, take care of yourself this Christmas Present, and look forward to Christmas Future.
If you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, be present to their need. Do not hurry them to leave their grief behind. Do not ask them to experience Christmas through your eyes. Listen to their sorrow. Respect their reasoning. Honor the memories they hold dear. In so doing, you will companion them toward experiencing peace with loss.
For the very Babe of Bethlehem came to earth as the Prince of Peace, and He will reconcile all things to himself in time, and make all things beautiful. Happy Birthday, Jesus.