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“Open your arms to life! Let it strut into your heart in all its messy glory!”
 
–Deborah Wiles

And So, This is Christmas

Christmas time is here, the most wonderful day of the year,” goes the chorus of the theme song from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  One of the TV shows we always watched as a family.  My Mom loved that little-animated cartoon with Burl Ives as the narrator.  And, like most of us, she loved Christmas.  The family time, presents, decorations, food, and of course the celebration of Jesus birth.  

Christmas in my family was just that, a joyous celebration.  I describe the festivities from our early Christmas’ in Chapter 7 of We Lost Her, the book I recently wrote about my mother’s tragic death and the impact on our family. 

“Christmas was the holiday our Mom and the whole family loved.  Christ’s birth.  And Santa Claus.  And the smells – Mom baked sugar cookies, maraschino cherry cookies, and special loaves of bread just for Christmas.  The smells would fill the house for the week before.  She’d wrap packages of decorated sugar cookies for our teachers and write a note of gratitude to each one.  We would deliver them to our teachers on the last day of class before the holiday. 

There were lots of church activities, from the school Christmas pageant to choir practice.  And on Christmas Day, we visited both sides of the family.  But my favorite part of Christmas was Christmas Eve. 

On Christmas Eve morning, Dad would take the boys and chop down an evergreen tree in the pasture, and then Mom and the girls would decorate it.  We had one string of big colored bulbs, a couple dozen glass ornaments, lots of homemade ornaments from school projects and tinsel.  Lots of tinsel.  I thought our tree was the prettiest one every year. 

Then, after an early supper, Dad would hang a quilt from the doorframe between the living room and the kitchen.  We’d go off to church.  When we got back from church, a miracle had occurred and Santa Claus had come to our house.  There was always a little pile of presents for each of us kids.  They were not wrapped, just in a neat little pile.  In order around the tree from oldest to youngest child.  We’d run to ours, quickly figuring out which were our treasures.  New colors, a coloring book, maybe a book all our own, socks, and one special toy.  One year I got a Barbie doll and Betty got a Penny Brite doll.  The boys got a tractor or blocks.  The year before Mom died, the boys all got “tommy guns.”  They loved them. 

Our Christmas wasn’t elaborate by today’s standards, but it was a heavenly time for us.  Until Mom died that September 1970.  Then, Christmas became that one more day to be sad that she wasn’t there to share it with us.  To miss her.  The first Christmas was the hardest, as described in We Lost Her

“In 1970, there was no tree. No tinsel.  We should have insisted for the boys’ sake.  Dad just couldn’t do it.  We baked a batch of sugar cookies, so we did keep one tradition alive.  We had set up the nativity scene that Mom loved, with the little-painted donkeys and cows and the baby Jesus.” 

The over-riding feeling I had that Christmas was of being so alone. Even though there were eight of us in our little farmhouse, I felt alone, forgotten, so mad at God for taking her and struggling with emotions I didn’t know how to handle. 

I am thankful to have had a strong religious upbringing because that faith ultimately pulled me through those dark days of feeling all alone. But on that first Christmas without her, we were a sad little flock.

The song my brothers and sisters sang that year and it became our “Christmas theme song” was “And so this is Christmas, and what have we done. Another year over, a new one just begun.  And so happy Christmas, and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”  We usually sing it as we gather together at Christmastime, to remember those first sad Christmas’s without her.

Heartlinks Grief Center hosts a Christmas Party for grieving children and their families, including those in the grief programs, past participants in the program and volunteers. Santa visits, crafts are made and pizza is enjoyed.  It’s called “Holiday Memories” and is a one more way Heartlinks works to help those struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.

That first Christmas without your loved one is hard and sad.  If you are grieving or know those who are experiencing their first Christmas season without their loved one, take action.  Let them know you care.  Visit.  Sit and talk with them. Take cookies.  Invite them to your house for the holiday.  Don’t worry you won’t say the right thing.  And, if they decline because they are not quite ready yet, that’s ok too.  Try again in a few weeks. They will treasure that you cared enough to try.  Do It!  You can truly make this the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Be Blessed,

Ellen

“We Grow Stronger Together”

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