A good friend of mine lost her husband the other day. He was 93, and failing, and everyone, my friend included, saw his gentle departure as a release. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. And now, here comes Christmas.
I have been incredibly, ridiculously, blessed thus far in my life to be practically untouched by tragedy. When I was fifteen I lost my grandmother who lived next door to us (actually, in a little house in our pasture–my sisters and I used to have to escort her visiting friends past our vicious geese), my Oma. But Oma died suddenly, in a car accident during a vacation back to her native Germany. My father had her buried there. My grief was shocked by suddenness and muffled by distance, and took decades to work itself out. But to date, that has been my only experience with family tragedy, and it was never immediate in the way of someone dying at home.
But even when I wasn’t fully attuned to my grief, I missed Oma most at Christmas.
There are so many reasons why it’s hardest to lose someone at this time of year, or why earlier losses become sharper in December. It’s dark. It’s cold. Everyone else is so damn cheery. Happy music plays everywhere. Lights twinkle. And someone is missing.
Maybe the hole is a place at the table. Maybe it’s a dish they used to make. (Oma, super-German, baked herself silly at Weihnachten: Lebkuchen, Pfeffernusse, Stollen. Even though I love to bake, I never make her special treats–they were too much hers.)
Maybe it’s a dish your loved one used to adore, like mashed potatoes, or perhaps an ornament they made that catches at your heart as you hang it on the tree. Christmas brings up the past so beautifully, and so relentlessly.
So I wonder, now that Solstice is past and we begin our slow move back toward the lighter days that still seem so far away: who are you thinking of this holiday? What holes do you wish you could fill? How do you honor your grief in such a happy season? How do you help others honor theirs?