Two years and 337 days ago on a harsh December night, my children’s father died. At just 44 years old, his heart stopped beating and he slipped from life into death as the world slept. I was left to deliver the news to the five little lives tucked safely in their beds, blissfully unaware of the unthinkable reality that was to come.
Two years and 337 days ago our world fell apart and though time has certainly smoothed the rough edges of loss, the holidays arrive like brightly-adorned packages full of grief triggers. There is an empty chair and one less stocking to fill that seems to mute the festive shades of togetherness, family and tradition so associated with Christmas. The hungry ache of the harshest winter has quieted to a whispered hush, but grief is a little flicker, like a tiny glowing ember that appears as a fire dies down. The soft breezes of the holidays blow at it ever so gently, forcing it to burn bright again making the season both bitter and sweet.
For our family—and for so many others who have lost a loved one—there is no magic wand that will soften or beautify a heart pierced by grief. Pain comes and goes—sometimes brief—other times lingering for longer than we’d like. But we lean in now, because when grief graces us with her presence in the stillness of a silent night, we are reminded that Keith was not created and given the gift of life just to fill an empty chair.
Living with grief is our way of remembering. As melancholy as it sounds, it’s not. It has become a soft and strangely peaceful place. It ebbs and flows and even subsides, and we breathe again, filling our hungry lungs with the abiding joy that still exists, waiting patiently to be noticed and welcomed.
Human beings are both tragically and indispensably born to grieve. Bliss and adversity swirl around us, but we are hardwired with resilience.
This Christmas will bring about the patter of ten not-so-little-anymore adolescent feet, begrudgingly outfitted in matching footed pajamas. The sweet smells of the season will fill the house. And at the center of it all is our wooden nativity set, because the truth is, Christmas is a peculiar paradox of birth and death, joy and lament, tears and hope. In our home the sentiment and joy of the season is balanced with bittersweet reflection.
Old traditions are mingled with new as we honor both the past and the present, always looking forward with expectancy, allowing the peace and the miracle of Christmas to serve as catalyst for the abiding joy that beckons us still, even as we are reminded of the harshest winter.