If you have been fortunate enough to know some happy Christmases, as I have, the sad ones really stand out. You probably can remember your saddest Christmas....I have three very sad Christmases.
The first was the first Christmas without my dad. He died suddenly at the age of 59 and it took us awhile just to get over the shock, before the grief set in. He was a positive, loving, vital force in our family, very much the head of the family and the hole he left behind could not be filled. This was my first great loss. (I had, for the most part up until this point led a charmed life, since my first great loss did not occur until this time, when I was thirty years old). I can remember thinking that I would just like to skip Christmas but everyone pointed out that we would have to have our first Christmas without him eventually and so we, of course, like all families experiencing loss, plodded through. There were four little grandchildren at that time to provide distraction and were a thankful focus. Our sadness contrasted with one's expectations of a happy christmas.
My mother remarried and Christmases after that took place at my sister's house and although my dad was always missed, we managed, as families do. One Christmas, my sister's oldest boy was diagnosed with cancer, the week before Christmas.... we were all reeling with grief and fear and dread. Christmas was instantly changed from my sister's house to my mom's house that year. My mom, who was not normally a big participater in these events but who was gifted with being able to arise to the occasion where necessary, went all out and got these wonderfully coloured stockings that could hold a pile of goodies, and she filled them to overflowing for the grandchildren. It was not something they were used to her doing and the children were surprised and excited. I can still see those stockings hanging in the hall. Full, they must have hung about five feet in length. It was a wonderful distraction for all of us and some festivity was brought into the day for the children despite the diagnosis which was looming in our midst. The chemotherapy treatments would begin the day after Christmas. I remember looking at my sister and her husband and thinking how, no matter what, they would never be the same again. I remember looking at my nephew John and just wanted to drink in the sight of his healthy little self. He is 33 years old today! Thank you Lord.
The next and last saddest Christmas was the first one after my husband left us. It was hard for my girls and I to feel as though we were even a family anymore. But that foundation of the larger family got us through. We kept to our usual routine of being home Christmas morning and opening our own gifts, then heading off to Toronto to be with the rest of the family. By this time my mother was onto husband #3 (she had been widowed twice) and again had not been hugely a part of the Christmas festivities, but again she rose to the occasion and went out of her way to make this one special (although to tell you the truth, the kind of grief I was in then, I don't remember much of the details).
What makes life even more difficult than it needs to be is expectations, and then having those expectations unfulfilled. Maybe we all need to take those expectations down a notch or two or more, so we can just enjoy whatever Christmas this year does, or doesn't bring. I think I am speaking to myself. Maybe the word 'merry' is the problem? Maybe there is pressure to have a 'merry' Christmas. What word could we substitute for it? I can't think of one, can you?