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?

Hug Your Kids, Hug Your Parents, and Leave Newtown Alone

I remember exactly where I was when the news reports started coming in one year ago: driving the Senior Center van, delivering lunches. I was doing the exact same thing today, and that horrible Friday, December 14 of 2012, came back to me.

The disbelief. The helpless grief. The fury, searching hopelessly for a valid target…only to turn back into grief.

I only think of the Newtown massacre periodically, because I have no real connections to it. I know how lucky I am. And that is why I hope fervently that the news media heed the pleas that Newtown community leaders have been issuing for the past couple of weeks, to please, please, please leave them alone for this horrible first anniversary of their tragedy.

One year later, I don’t want to talk about gun control or mental health. I don’t want to argue. All I want to do is send healing love to those poor, torn-up families, and to stay out of their way. And, since I’ve re-opened this well of emotion which is now overflowing again, I plan to “hug” as many virtual kids as I can this weekend.

My own grown sons I have recently seen (and hugged) and will (inshallah) see and hug again soon. So tonight I’m going to call and email my two “goddaughters,” and send some hugs via email to all my former students.



What should we do to remember the Newtown families? Hug our own. If your own family is not available to hug, hug someone else’s kid, or mom, or dad. Call someone. Email someone. Tell them how much you love them.

Hugs can’t heal everything. But they can keep us going even in the face of that knowledge.

If you have your own words of remembrance or comfort, please share them. Then go and hug.