Now that the holidays are behind us, many are breathing a sigh of relief, grateful for the time spent with family and friends and all the preparation and events that made this season so special. Most are grateful to pack up the Christmas decorations and get back to “normal.”
But there are some who struggle with the end of the season that kept them so busy — struggle with getting back to normal. Those who are in deep mourning for a lost loved one know of what I speak.
The loneliness of losing a loved one is a burden any time of the year, but for some it is especially cumbersome during and after the Christmas season. I remember well, that first Christmas after my husband Trent died in a car accident. Every event was a sheer act of will for me as I trudged numbly through the traditional Advent preparations and Christmas events he and I would have enjoyed together.
Don’t get me wrong. My life overflowed with caring, generous people who stepped out of their way to include me in the festivities of the season. But in the exhausting pain of my early grief, I had little energy to respond.
The loneliness that pervaded my life that first Christmas swept me to a place of darkness where I was sure I would simply exist forever. The only light I saw was the youthful joy my two young daughters maintained even in their loss.
So in that light — for them — I decorated a tree, not quite as elaborate as in years past, but standing nonetheless as a reminder of peace and beauty, baked cookies to share with family and friends and then to place on the hearth on Christmas Eve for Good St. Nick, wrapped gifts that were distributed at family gatherings and, of course, on Christmas morn, and tried my best to be joyful as well.
The busy-ness of the season kept my grief at bay some of the time, though the ache I felt for Trent grew with each gathering. And when Jan. 2 finally arrived I breathed a sigh of relief that I had survived my first Christmas season without my beloved spouse.
Unfortunately for me then, and many others who grieve, I suspect, the relief of the “back to normal” routine that one usually experiences after the activities are over and the decorations are boxed in anticipation of another season did not return — as much as I tried to coax it.
Without the hustle bustle of the Christmas season, the loneliness encircled me once again in a shroud of darkness that brought me an intrusive physical ache. And as the new year unfolded my only hope was in God’s promise of healing.
Best selling author Richard Paul Evans exposed my very life in his 1997 novel “The Letter,” when he penned, “I feel lost. No. To be lost is to not know where one is — and I am all too sure. I am alone. My heart, my love, has been torn from me and I am consumed by the pain of it. … I don’t know where my road now leads but I fear the shadowlands that lie ahead. But it is not the darkness of the path I fear. Just the loneliness of the trail.”
It is sometimes a dark and lonely trail that those who mourn must walk when life outside resumes its normalcy, especially after the holidays, no matter the type of loss. But hope is hidden in that loneliness for all of us. God is present in the empty, fertile space of the new year, even when the ache vies to overcome us. His grace will sanctify our grief as we work through it toward healing. But we must do that necessary work!
I’ve learned over the years that grief work is essential to discovering how our lives have been changed by the death of our loved ones and how we will create a “new normal” that will honor them. The work of grief is not time bound and is certainly difficult with its emotional chaos and uncertainty. But it is a transitional process — and will not last forever. In the process we must maintain our hope that God’s plan for our future is one of healing and peace.
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