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Christmas Grief: Too Silent a Night

I remember the disturbing silence of my mother’s electric lungs. The whoosh of the machine that supplied oxygen to her had been quieted. She lay motionless, her eyes closed, the oxygen tubing pushed away. She’d never breathe again.

The muffled voices of a hospice nurse and my husband droned in the kitchen. A hush settled around me and the shell that had held my mother’s soul. My link to her. As I sat by her bedside in the middle of the living room, it was as if I was alone on a planet, a solitary citizen standing at the beginning of creation. Or, rather, at the end of it. The world as I had known it was gone.

I gazed into her face for long moments and then pulled the sheet over her head. Our long talks, our shared laughs – the beautiful, living noise of the house – would never be again.ParentHouseAtNight.jpg

Christmas at a July Funeral

It was a steamy southern July, but I decided that we’d sing Silent Night at her funeral. Perhaps an odd selection, but in the whirl of grief, I grasped to remember what songs she loved. At the service, the lyrics were transformed in my mind. Instead of singing of a night in Bethlehem, we sang of the night that my mother died in her sleep, in the home where I’d grown up, with a hired aide.

Peace for her. Pain for me.

From then on, the popular Christmas carol that turned 200 years old this year was forever marked as a song of mourning, a consequence I had not intended. Silent Night was perhaps destined to prick my grief anyway. For those who have lost a loved one, Christmas music often triggers sad nostalgia – or outright incidents of wailing. With carols piped into shopping malls, commandeered for commercials and fitted into festive parties and events, the grieving cannot possibly escape.

What is one to do? I’ve dissolved into tears in front of my stereo at home, stopped cold as music drifted into the grocery aisles, and changed the radio station as though I was braking to avoid a pedestrian in the street. As my grief has aged, though, I’ve found myself turning up the music and singing along. In my head, my mother is singing Silver Bells again, or Merry Christmas to You, commonly subtitled Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Funny, I never realized how beautiful my mother’s voice was until I couldn’t hear it anymore.

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Grief at Christmas: When Adopting New Traditions Doesn’t Work

They told me to find new traditions to survive Christmas with a broken heart. It was on all the lists. As I face the 10th year without a living parent, however, I still haven’t found stability.

I still can’t get the Christmases I once had out of my head. I still haven’t found a routine that fills a sad, black hole that I cannot escape.


My uncle, aunt, their daughter-in-law and son (my cousins) and my dad encircle me at Christmas. My mother is apparently behind the camera.

Have you found traditions and routines yet that calm that yearning for Christmas past? Or are you still looking?

My expectations always do me in. People just won’t do what I want them to do. (Insert chuckle here.) Communication gaps. Conflicting plans. Unnecessary drama. My hopes and plans for a blissful Christmas of ease dissolve in the wake these obstacles.

My emotions don’t do what I want them to, either. They fluctuate each Christmas. I once wrote that each Christmas gets better and better after the loss of a loved one. That’s what I’d experienced – until I didn’t. It was then I realized grief storms come when they wish.

Especially at Christmas. The holiday is full of triggers. One of my primary ones is music. Sad nostalgia rides on sound waves. No, I’m sorry. I cannot go Home for Christmas.

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A Warning from Beyond?

Can dead people warn us of impending danger? Do they provide the grown up equivalent of “don’t run with scissors?”

That’s a dicey question for a Christian to ask because the Bible tells us that God doesn’t want us to try to communicate with the dead.P1000643 (2)

I hope my fellow believers haven’t already tuned out. If you’ve made it thus far, allow me to elaborate. I want to tell you about what I heard last week. And how it caused me to swerve from danger.

I think God brings things to our mind from the past that fit into the circumstances of the moment. He reminds us of conversations past.

I also think wisdom and other bits of information people like our parents gave us get embedded in our brains. And at the right moment, it’s like a “play” button is pushed. We hear them again, but this time, their words apply to present circumstances. It sure feels as though it is from our departed one, doesn’t it? But is it?

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