We go about wishing each other happy holidays and a merry Christmas, but sometimes the holiday season can be cruel.
For some people, it’s a reminder of ones we deeply loved who are no longer with us. The holidays will arrive without them this year, and it’s likely the coming weeks will feel more like a survival course than a season of celebration.
As London follows its seasonal narrative of gift-shopping, celebrations, lights, music, family gatherings, sumptuous dinners and endless snacks, among us will be many moving like shadows through it all, struggling in their sense of loss yet attempting to live up to the expectations of others.
Along with the joy we share together, any good city recognizes the pain of others.
The holidays are meant to be spent with loved ones. They accentuate a sense of togetherness and belonging. Yet the opposite is equally true. That empty chair, the vacant side of the bed, the lack of shared laughter or cherished nuzzle of love on Christmas morning, these comprise the new reality of isolation.
Author C. S. Lewis wrote about the loss of his wife in A Grief Observed. “Grief gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up to this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time — empty successiveness.”
Lewis went on to describe his daily grief not so much as pain but as an amputation, no longer fully able to function because of his loss. Worse, his grief had become debilitating fear, the very thing the Christmas message was meant to overcome.
We still have our natural senses, but what good are they when we can no longer see, hear or touch those who once filled our lives with love and purpose?
Yet, within our personal bleak mid-winter lies a truth we must never abandon: we grieve as deeply as we do because we are still capable of great feeling.
Yes, grief is love with nowhere to go, but it is love just the same, and we feel it. It is not so much a permanent place of emptiness as it is a process toward healing and capacity, with tears as a necessary part of the journey.
For those enduring grief this holiday season — and there are thousands in London — reminders of what has been lost are plentiful. But so are those values that continue to frame what we desire for this troubled world, our families and our hurting selves.
For anyone caring to remember, the original Christmas story was about individuals struggling in a world lost in seeming darkness. We read of people searching for hope when none seemed obvious or available: A young pregnant woman seeking solace in a world dominated by political and military powers that threatened the very life emerging within her. A nation, and its people, feeling they had lost the essence of what had once given them purpose and belonging.
It was, and is, for such as these that the Christmas message was intended. As old carols tell us, it was to “a weary world” that the “thrill of hope” was designed on that first Christmas. It was to a people confined by sadness that the refrain of “joy to the world” was sung. It was to a world “pining” for its soul to “feel its worth” that the signal of “a new and glorious morn” was given.
The very spirit of Christmas that at the moment makes grief so painful and pronounced was also the one we intimately shared with those we have lost. It serves as a sure sign, like some kind of guiding star, that weeping may endure for a time, but there will still be a morning of joy.
And, in that morning, the memory of what we had and knew together, will empower us and light our way. The very pain of loss that we feel most deeply during this season reminds us of what is essential in life and urges us to discover and share it.
To those bearing the darkness of grief this season, let not the pain of loss blind you to the preciousness of what you shared, what you are still capable of sharing, and to your value to a troubled world.
I wish a meaningful Christmas to all.
See this post in its original London Free Press format here.