Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Window into Grief: The Holidays, Round One

People tell me that the holidays and celebrations the second and third year are the worst. You are somewhat braced for the first round, they say. But then you look up and say, All right, I survived ~ and what do you get? Another year of celebrations, along with the knowledge that this is, indeed how it will be from here on out. He will not be back.

But we are only coming up on the first season. And I've been reading the advice to the newly bereaved: Stay out of the stores. Cut back on the decorations and other household traditions. Know that everything will remind you of everything. Go away.

The Lovely Daughter is coming home for Thanksgiving, something she did not do during her first three years of college, and we are going to the Quiet Husband's parents' home for a day or two. Gregarious Son announced that he and his sister had vetoed what he described as "a pathetic dinner at home with the four of us and a microwaved turkey." "Forget the turkey," I said. "Our point exactly," he responded."

And then comes Christmas. For awhile I was loathe to abandon our 20-plus year tradition of hosting many of our friends for a sit-down feast and conversation late into the evening, but the same son pointed out that I am only just now up to a dinner out on occasion. And then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I do not want to be here at all. Christmas has long been a time of deep religious significance for me, but memories of the last 24 of them are completely intertwined with joyful memories of our children, and many of those memories are specific and individual to Chicago Son.

What to do? Where to go? Where can we flee from Christmas? Pakistan? offered the Quiet Husband. Baghdad? suggested a friend.

Of course, one cannot flee from Christmas. One cannot flee. One can run away from the commercial trappings, from the traditions, from what now register as oppressive expectations. But not from Christmas itself. The insistence of the calendar means that it will come, whether or not we are ready. And the readings at our son's Memorial Service - Psalm 139 and Romans 8 -- take on a new layer of meaning.

I don't know yet what we will do for Christmas. I don't think that it will be here, but the decision will only come after much family discussion. It may involve palm trees, or a desert, and candles at midnight in a place we've never been. I just don't know.

For myself, the lone religious voice in our household, there will need to be something more. Advent in past years has been a time of quiet reflection for me. This year I am not going to be looking for cosmic significance. This year I am going to try to look for a moment of peace in each day. Such a find would be momentous indeed. This year the hope resides in one of the readings from our Lessons and Carols service last year: Will you come into the darkness of tonight's world?

*****

(Image: Stained Glass Window by Barbara Joyce,
here. )

16 comments:

Magdalene6127 said...

It is hard not to notice, too, that the lectionary gospel readings are decidedly apocalyptic... they are about end time, Jesus' own end times and the world's end times.

Keeping you in prayer (((GG)))

RevDrKate said...

One daily moment of peace, coming into this darkness...yes, an Advent gift...prayers for that for you.

Joan Calvin said...

My prayers are with you. God is with you. May God's love surround you in this difficult time.

Diane said...

all I can say right now is ((((GG))))

will be back.

Kathryn J said...

I will be thinking of you and praying that you get that one moment of peace per day.

Cynthia said...

So far, I've completely blocked thoughts of the holidays from my mind. I see the commercials, and I can't absorb them. I see decorations up, and they surprise me. I know I need to think about what I'm going to do, but damn if I can.

Michelle said...

...for the moments of peace, prayers and grace.

Purple said...

Tears for and with you.

Lisa :-] said...

I really want to comment, but I can't come up with what I want to say. Holidays just suck when you're grieving. They change, they get different, they get tolerable at some point... It takes time.

I hope Advent can have some meaning for you this year, my friend, wherever you are.

Sarah S-D said...

and we're here for you, whatever this, and the seasons to come, brings. thanks for granting me the grace of your presence yesterday.

a moment peace every day. what a beautiful prayer for advent. may it be so.

Carol said...

A moment of peace. Today and every day. And the reading was hauntingly beautiful--even for a non-Christian like me.

bean said...

come and spend the time with me...in my orthodox jewish neighborhood (which i am not, as you know) you'd have no clue that xmas was going on anywhere.
a moment of peace each day sounds like a good plan.
bean

Quotidian Grace said...

Although you can't flee Christmas, you can change the context. I encourage your determination to do so in another place and way this year.

Blessings, GG.

mompriest said...

That reading from Iona is powerful... The desert offers a different kind of Christmas-time...dry air, warm temps, barren land, cacti...? praying for a moment of peace...

Jennifer said...

I think you are very wise.

Jennifer said...

When my mother died, I was 20. My sister and I abandoned home for Disney World--no joke. It was the only place where Christmas could be so over-the-top, it wouldn't resemble what had been. And who can't feel just the tiniest bit of joy in the midst of all that gawdy splendor? So we did indeed light candles on our hotel balcony Christmas Eve and sang Silent Night. I wrote tearfully in my journal, but the next day we woke up and celebrated with all we had in us. And we received a gift... It will be hard to describe in short comment space, but we made a reservation at a Disney restaurant, not realizing it was set up as a "mom's kitchen" sort of place. When we walked in, the hostess said, "Oh, girls, you're here--Mom's been waiting for you!" HUH??? So we go to our table, and over comes our server. Her name? Phyllis. My mother's name--and not a common one at that. To this day, I get chills about Phyllis, the angel who served us Christmas dinner the year my mother died. Little did she know why we were weeping into our mashed potatoes. We thought we were going away to somehow get away from the memories, but amazing mother that she was (and still is), she followed us. May Chicago son go with you to wherever you decide, and may you greet him with the same sense of peace and celebration I felt.