Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The First Christmas Without Them (Repeat Posting)

Some of you know that on September 28, 1999, Cynthia--my wife of 40 years--succumbed to a bleeding brain malformation. I was a wreck after her death. I wrote this piece, which was reprinted in our local paper that December. I have had a number of requests for it at this time of year since then. I offer it here, dedicated to the ones who won't be around the tree with us.
          Following the death of a loved one, every holiday afterward carries its own load of renewed grief, but there’s little doubt that Christmas—especially that first Christmas without him or her—is the loneliest time of the year.
         After the death of my wife, Cynthia, I was determined to keep things as “normal” as possible for that first Christmas. Since this was an impossible goal, the stress and depression I felt were simply multiplied by my efforts. My initial attempt to prepare the Christmas meal for my family was a disaster, yet I found myself terribly saddened by the sight of my daughter and daughters-in-law in the kitchen doing what Cynthia used to do. Putting the angel on the top of the tree, a job that had always been hers, brought more tears. It just wasn’t right—and it wasn’t ever going to be again.
         Looking back now, I know that the sooner the grieving family can establish a “new normal,” the better things will be. Change the menu of the traditional meal. Get together at a different home. Introduce variety. Don’t strive for the impossible task of recreating Christmases past, but instead take comfort in the eternal meaning of the season.
         The first Christmas will involve tears, but that’s an important part of recovery. Don’t avoid mentioning the loved one you’ve lost. Instead, talk about them freely. Share the good memories. And if you find yourself laughing, consider those smiles a cherished legacy of the person whom you miss so very much.
         For most of us, grieving turns our focus inward. We grieve for ourselves, for what might have been, for what we once had that has been taken from us. The Christmas season offers an opportunity to direct our efforts outward. During this season for giving, do something for others. Make a memorial gift in memory of your loved one to a regional Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Involve yourself in a project through your church. Take a name from an Angel Tree at one of the malls and shop for a child whose smile you may not see but which will warm your heart nevertheless.
         When you’re grieving, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Christmas, especially the modern version. The echoes of angel voices are drowned out by music from iPods. The story of Jesus’ birth gives way to reruns of “Frosty, The Snowman.” Gift cards from Best Buy and Wal-Mart replace the offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you find the season getting you down, the burden of your loss too great to bear, read once more the Christmas story in Luke, chapter 2. Even if you celebrate it alone, remember the true meaning of Christmas.    

                                                     


2 comments:

Patricia Bradley said...

Thank you for sharing. I've now shared it to FB because I feel there are many out there who need to read it.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Patricia. I don't make mention in this piece (as I recall) of my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, but the fact that it's still in print after a decade speaks to the ongoing need of so many. I appreciate your sharing it.