It was barely noon on Christmas day and I ransacked the house, tearing down the Christmas tree and all the decorations, trying to rid the house and my heart of every visible reminder of Christmas…my first Christmas without my mother; my first Christmas in the unwanted role as matriarch of the family.
Grieving at Christmas
I had heard, but never previously paid close attention, to people speak of those for whom Christmas was not a joyous time of year. I couldn’t previously relate. How could it not be joyous? It was a time of family, celebration, and, of course, remembering the ultimate gift in the form of the birth of our Savior so many years ago.
I wept as I fell to my knees, willing the clock to speed supernaturally forward 12 hours to December 26th, as if that would put an end to my pain. I didn’t want to see everyone else’s happy family pictures and smiling faces, when all I could do was cry while feeling our family was now and would always somehow feel incomplete, as I grieved my mother’s early departure from this world. I wanted to feel comforted in my loss. I wanted what had been taken from me to be returned so that my children could know their grandmother and grandfather—both now in heaven. I wanted the pain to end and life to return to “normal.”
Yet another glimpse into the pain others experience during the holidays came several years later when for the first time in 15 years, my husband’s parents didn’t join us for their traditional three-week visit at Christmas. Stricken with Alzheimer’s, and in a memory care unit, travel was too difficult on my mother-in-law, disrupting her routine and exacerbating her confusion. Taken quite by surprise that year, I awoke before any of the other family members on Christmas morning and scrolled through social media posts, but I was sad and disheartened, absent the normal holiday cheer that always accompanied spending time with my family and celebrating our Savior’s birth.
In my quiet time, I took this disconcerting feeling before the Lord and realized I was again grieving. Although not a physical death, it was a death of tradition of family time spent together, and the death of a relationship that would no longer be what it once was. While we had our memories of years past, no new memories would be formed—a mirror of what she was encountering as a result of a wicked disease process.
Those two years dramatically shifted my perspective. Ever since that first Christmas without my mother and best friend, I now look into the eyes of others and see the pain of those for whom Christmas is not the most joyous time of year.
For many, the holidays are difficult and full of pain
Despite the carols, and lights, and festivities galore, the holidays are for many, a difficult and painful reminder of all they have lost or lack. The parties and gift exchanges just further serve as a tool of comparison for what they cannot do or do not have. No other time of year is there such a time of concentrated comparison that serves to stir up pain and regret.
As we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas, let us remember the reason Christ came: to share God’s love in physical form so that we might ultimately come to know Him.
Be a light in the darkness
Let us be aware that many are in pain right now from the loss of friends and family members due to death, divorce, deployment, addiction, incarceration, poor health, estrangement, and poor choices. Many are dealing with a disparity between their hopes and expectations and the reality of what is. What they need from us is not an admonishment to “Cheer up,” but for us to be a light in their darkness, and love in their brokenness.
Let us pray that in His faithfulness, God will be near to the brokenhearted this holiday season, and save those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
If you have been there, as I have, and know what it’s like to grieve and lack joy when it seems the rest of the world is singing Christmas carols and drinking eggnog, you have a particularly special gift to give this year. Because of your own experience, your ability to empathize with another’s suffering, you can now comfort others with the comfort you were given during your own period of pain and suffering (2 Corinthians 1:4). In doing so, maybe they will come to know Him through our love. I can hardly think of any other gift that would mean as much, can you?
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Depression doesn’t have to become a permanent part of life.
There is hope.
Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.
“If you or a loved one are walking through the valley of depression, be encouraged that you are not alone. Dr. Michelle Bengtson has provided a powerful resource to help you on your journey toward hope. It is a personal and positive book, as you learn from Dr. Bengtson’s own story as well as her practical knowledge in the field. I love how she shares a prescription, a prayer and a playlist at the end of each chapter to give you an extra boost of strength. Hope Prevails is a must read for every person who struggles with depression.” ~ Karol Ladd, Author of Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive