Posts Tagged ‘grief at Christmas’



Each year our Christmas tree gains more decorations and loses any semblance of colour coordination.   But each year I love our tree a little more. It captures memories from long ago, with its frayed and faded decorations which once adorned the Christmas trees my husband and I gazed at as children and the collection of treasures made by our sons when their fingers were small and chubby and scribbly masterpieces were presented to us with enthusiastic smiles and lots of glue and glitter.   It’s a tree full of memories.

Christmas is a funny time which brings out both the best, and the worst, in many of us.  I think of it as the bipolar time of year.  When the mood is high, we have the warmth of community carol evenings, churches gathering treats for hampers for the needy, the giving and receiving of gifts and all of the champagne-popping feasting and festivity that happens when friends and family get together.  But then there’s the low mood moments – the pushing and shoving to be first in line at the shops, the road-rage to find a parking spot, the arguments in the supermarket, the stress about having too much to do, the anxiety of waiting to face a festering family conflict on Christmas Day and that lonely empty feeling that everyone else is having a much better time than you.

I witnessed both the highs and the lows last week on a brief trip to our local shopping mall.  There was the helpful man walking by in the congested car park who directed us to a free car space, just out of our vision.  He didn’t need to do this, but he did.  But then there was the lady who pushed into a queue ahead of us, making no eye contact, head held high.  The lady serving saw what had happened and pleasantly said to both of us:  “So who was next?”  The lady jumped in immediately, like a winning contestant on Family Feud punching her buzzer with: “I was”.  She reminded me of a footballer diving in for the winning try.  And I let her enjoy her victory.  When she left the shop assistant made a comment about the rudeness of shoppers at this time of year, and we laughed together. 

On the next leg of my journey I noticed a woman with a young daughter with her shopping trolley stuck on a busy escalator. She wasn’t strong enough to shift it and  the crowd grew rapidly behind her, building up like items on a conveyor belt.  There was lots of huffing and puffing and rolling of eyes and a few creative expletives were thrown around. Eventually one man found it in himself to assist her, but even then it was done in an angry and abrupt manner.  The lady’s small daughter looked on with large frightened eyes.  Meanwhile “Silent Night” played away in the background and the pretty lights twinkled. 

It’s interesting how stressed we become at Christmas.  There’s so much to do, so much to organise, and there’s this gnawing feeling deep inside that our lives have to look and feel perfect at this time of year.  Sometimes in all the striving, the worst in us can come to the surface:  the selfishness, the aggression, the Me-First attitude.  Just as we long for peace, joy and hope all we see are chaos, stress and misery staring right back at us. 

If you are feeling this way this Christmas, if that little knot of anxiety is starting to form and grow in your belly, can I encourage you to step back and remember what Christmas is really all about.  It’s not actually about overspending and eating lots of turkey.  It’s about the person we occasionally catch a glimpse of in the Nativity Scene or hear snippets about in a Christmas carol.  He doesn’t play a starring role in the whole Christmas extravaganza these days, but Jesus is the meaning and heart of Christmas. He came to bridge the gap between mankind and God and to model a life of sacrifice, service and compelling love.  

So please pause for just a moment this Christmas. If you have a long Christmas gift list be thankful for it.  My list is smaller than it once was, with a few key family members now missing.  If Christmas holds memories of absent family members and times long past, pause and remember them and don’t be ashamed of the tears.  Just let them fall as they heal and cleanse you.

If someone steals your parking spot, smile at them and don’t yell.   This will probably shock them more than your yelling will.  The other day I blew a kiss and smiled encouragingly at a man who cut me off in traffic.  You should have seen his face!  So much more satisfying for the soul than getting flustered.  Smile at strangers, help people when you can and give someone who really needs it an anonymous gift.  

Breathe and look around you.  Buy simpler gifts and serve simpler food if the effort of creating perfection is impacting your mental health.  It won’t matter.  You’ll be more relaxed and have more fun that way and that’s what people will notice.  Even if your house isn’t pristine and perfect, Christmas can still be wonderful.  I hope that whatever Christmas looks like for you this year, whatever memories and longing it stirs up, that you will be warmed by the true Christmas spirit  – the flame of God’s unconditional love and the light of peace which surpasses all understanding.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

" ... because of the tender mercy of our God,
     by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
  to shine on those living in darkness
     and in the shadow of death,
 to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79



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There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.        Conrad Hall

Christmas Eve is alight with anticipation.   The presents are wrapped, baking complete, salads prepared and decorations in place.   Coloured lights flash in the Christmas tree and a certain magic fills the house.   Only three hours until our friends will arrive for our annual Christmas Eve celebrations.  I find the red candle holders and little tinsel tree to decorate the table, and pull out my best platters.   Now where is the table-cloth?  Last year after a succession of tacky plastic Santa cloths I splashed out at David Jones on an  elegant white cloth.   Eventually I find it at the bottom of the linen cupboard, hastily washed after last Christmas, but obviously not ironed.

The three-hour window of time fades to two as I push a hot iron over and over the wrinkly white cloth.   No matter how much steam and Fabulon I use, the wrinkles won’t budge.   Then I notice a pink tinge, the remnants of last years’ late afternoon musings over several bottles of Merlot.    We must have been talking with our hands, with wineglasses still in them, as we solved the problems of the world. 

I remember last Christmas.   After Santa’s visit to my boys, I packed a picnic for the nursing home and met my sister and her family there.    We sipped champagne and nibbled on cheese, biscuits and chips.  Mum ate nothing and I spoke brightly, giving my sons gifts from Nanna while she looked on blankly.  I gave her ‘Beautiful’ perfume and matching body lotion, holding it up to her as I unwrapped it.    I wanted the morning to be perfect.   Next to us a DVD played karaoke Christmas carols, well-known songs accompanied by clichéd Christmas scenes.  The carols were simply background noise until Silent Night began playing.   Mum looked at me then, eyes shining, and began to sing.   With a melodious voice and word-perfect, she sang the entire song, and I sang along with her through my tears.   No longer able to speak, her words returned in the lines of this carol.   Silent Night brought Mum back to us briefly.  It had always been her favourite.

It was hard leaving Mum at the nursing home on special days.  We trailed back to our house for the usual mish-mash of Christmas fare, bon-bons and presents.   By evening I was feeling weary but relaxed in the soothing company of my family, our conversation expansive and the wine flowing.

Thankfully my Christmas Eve friends aren’t the types to notice a few pink stains on a table-cloth.   I lay it out on the table and add the decorations.  It is still wrinkly, and pink around the edges, but it looks festive all the same.   Chris comes in and says ‘Don’t you think you should iron that?‘ and I laugh.

I haven’t sung Silent Night this year as Mum is no longer here to sing it with me.   Perhaps by next year I’ll be able to sing it again.   I suspect the cloth will gain more colour tonight – perhaps some seafood sauce or chocolate cheesecake, and I’ll soak it and wash it again.  Next year there will be some new stains – memories of another Christmas spent with people I love.

Every Christmas I have an irrational desire for the perfect day and the perfect life.  Yet what is perfection anyway?   A white table-cloth without stain or wrinkle to impress my friends?   A life without pain or heartache, spent guarding my heart?  Or is my challenge to live with the spills and stains, the pain of loving people and losing them, and the knowledge that nothing ever stays the same?   Next year I’ll iron the white table-cloth again, and remember that a few stains and wrinkles never hurt anyone.   In fact it is imperfection and difficult times that have the potential to transform us and to form our most cherished memories.


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