Christmas With a Hole In It

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?

4 thoughts on “Christmas With a Hole In It

  1. A timely post. Today is the anniversary of my step-mother’s death. She was so dear to me. I miss her every day, but today is another sharp reminder of our loss.

  2. Gretchen,

    I’m finding this a bit late, post-holiday.

    We have two very special ornaments for our holidays. One is a silver bell in a three dimensional snowflake, which I and my first fiance bought at a fine jewelry store the one Christmas we had together. It was a huge indulgence; I made every other ornament that year. Tim died the following April.

    I have carried that little snowflake bell cross country three times, and it’s been played with by kids and cats. It’s a little smooshed, now, and so tarnished that the 1994 engraved on it isn’t visible anymore. i like that it’s been with me ever since, to remind me of a part of my life that I treasured deeply.

    We also have a little goldtone angel lying on his belly on a cloud, beaming. There are three little baby charms on the bottom, and it’s engraved, “Our Little Angel”. My dear friend Catherine, used her first attempt with a metal engraver to scrawl an addition: ” Elijah, Your Spirit is Here.”

    This is our little totem for our second child, who lived only a little piece of July, and never got to come home during his lifetime. We hang it at the top of the tree each year, so he’s got a good view, at least symbolically. A baby who dies in the NICU when his life can still be easily measured in days doesn’t leave very many momentos behind, but he left his heart valves to a little girl somewhere else in the country – so he’s not only our angel, but another family’s anonymous hero.

    Since his own sister wasn’t born until a year after he lived and died, that little ornament means a lot to her, especially.

    As you say, the pain of loss stings a little sharper this time of year, and my eyes are a bit more likely to tear up. Even long after, grief can cut like the icy wind.

    Thank you for giving me a place to honor and remember two special spirits.

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