When People Hurt at Christmas

Robert and Elizabeth Waters - Riverdale, MD - 1912

My mother died in April 2008. She followed her brother Bob who had died just four months earlier.  My mother (Elizabeth) and Uncle Bob were named for my grandmother’s sister and brother - Robert and Elizabeth Waters- who died in 1914 just weeks apart.  They were 16 and 18 years old. 

Robert hit his head while getting off a street car when he was making a trip to DC.  He developed meningitis, but the doctors couldn't identify the sickness initially.  His older sister Libby took care of him at home.  By the time they figured out that Robert was contagious, Libby was already showing symptoms.  She was whisked away from Robert's bedside and put in quarantine.  She missed Robert's funeral.  She died two weeks later.

So many times I heard about how my great-grandmother's hair turned completely white the year after Robert and Elizabeth died - how the deaths of her two eldest children defined her life.  She never got over it.  

How could she?

It’s strange to ponder that coincidental repetition of another Elizabeth following her brother Robert in death as time circles around us.  Death has such a darkness about it.  We don't know where they're going... only that they are not with us and we can't see them safely to the other side.  

Robert and Elizabeth Granados - Riverdale - 1941

My mother and Uncle Bob died in their seventies after raising large families and living full lives.  But losing a loved one - any loved one  - will mark Christmas with that absence forever.

Several people close to us have suffered losses this year, and this will be their “first” Christmas without that loved one.   As time goes on, the sting will lessen, and the vacancy left will be filled by remembrances. And those recollections will  become the bandages that cover the scars of loss - until the scars disappear - if they ever disappear.  

If you are loved, you are never forgotten.

As we navigate through the revolutions of the passing years, Christmas is a time when we pause.  We reflect on birth, beginning, light coming into the darkness – a light that the darkness cannot overcome.  We look forward to another year and hope for blessings.  

It’s a time we remember everything we ever loved, when joys and sorrows are magnified and felt stronger than other times of the year.   

Love is what knits the Christmases of our past into a warm garment of memory that cloaks future Christmases.  It’s that love that pushes us year after year to make this season special.  

Tristan - 5 minutes old

In doing research for my book, Thin Places – Celtic Doorways to the Otherworld – I read this quote by the late Celtic mystic, John O’Donohue.   

If you could interview a baby in the womb, and it asks you, “what’s going to happen to me?”  You’d say “you’re going to go through a dark channel.  You’re going to be pushed out.  You’ll arrive into a vacant world of open air and light.  The cord that connects you to your mother is going to be cut. You going to be on your own forevermore and regardless of how close you come to anyone, you’ll never be able to belong in the way that you’ve belonged here.”  The baby would have no choice by to conclude that it was going to die.  … when in actual fact .. it’s being born.