For most people, Christmas is a time of complete joy. It’s a time where holiday spirit and happiness abounds. From cheerful music, kind acts from strangers and family get-togethers, it truly is a magical time.
But for some, it is nothing more than a painful reminder of a loved one who is no longer there to experience the bliss of the occasion. It’s wondering year after year how different celebrating would be if they were just here. Memories of the last Christmas they were alive join together with tears in the flooding of regrets of what could have been done differently if it was only known that it would be their last.
While many times throughout the year, the heartache can be retained by the fast speed of everyday life, the holidays offer a tremendous amount of slowing down and reflecting and, in turn, heart wrenching pain.
And time — years — are supposed to, if nothing else, bandage that pain. We are told that it will get easier — that time heals all wounds.
Yet, at my father-in-law’s viewing, I remember the widow of one of his best friends coming up to console us. Clearly, the heartache of losing her husband was still weighing deep on her heart. Lost for words, I softly asked her if it gets easier.
I wanted to hear a promise that it gets better — that this is the worst of it. I longed for anything positive in that moment — a small glimmer of hope. Between sobs, she was able to manage a one-word whisper, “no.”
One hundred days after we said goodbye to my father-in-law, we lost my brother-in-law to leukemia. Same year, more pain. In fact, I tried God that year — I was convinced that there was no way He was going to take Jeff away after just taking Larry from us.
But, He did.
And my husband, who already had a jaded opinion of Christmas (and quite honestly, children) from working retail in his younger years, went from The Grinch to absolutely hating Christmas. His family had been cut in half in a matter of months. He lost his best friend and brother as well as his caregiver and father.
Christmas — nor life — would ever be the same.
While I was truly devastated over their loss, I will never fully understand the complete heartache that Paul and his mother feel. Thankfully, sometimes with almost a feeling of selfishness, I have all of my immediate family still with me.
And I love Christmas. So, it was hard for me, especially after we brought our daughters into this world, to understand how the season could still be so blue.
At first, I “made” Paul tag along to all the fun Christmas outings. I didn’t want him to miss the looks on the kids’ faces, the joy in their first spottings of Santa, the love of the season through a child — his child’s — eyes.
But I couldn’t help but see the pain in his. You see, while I only thought about making memories with our girls, he was thinking about what his dad and brother would never see. So, I stopped asking him to go.
The last thing I wanted to do was add more pain onto the heavy plate that he was carrying. But, I still wanted my babies to experience the magic in the season, which is why many of our Christmas outings you will see just me and the girls accompanied by my mom and sisters.
I have learned that people grieve at their own pace and in their own way. Expecting him to join in on all our Christmas adventures (and we do A LOT), was overwhelming for him. And while he may at first felt the freedom of being off the hook in attending the annual events, this year he requested to join us at Smiley Park.
To some, this may seem like a small request — maybe even his “duty” as a dad. But to me, it was a huge step in a painful process. He wanted to ensure that the Christmas memories that our children hold include him.
If the pain of Larry and Jeff’s passing has taught me anything, it is that time doesn’t heal all. But time does make the present a bit more manageable. And if we don’t have time — time to share with loved ones left — then truly, we have nothing.
It may be joyous, it may be saddening, it may be overwhelming, or it may be magical. Regardless of what it is, or what step of grieving one may be in, there comes a time when making the most of it is all that matters.
After all, time, and loved ones — even ourselves — will eventually pass anyway.
Sarah (Pitson) Shrader was born and raised in Lima. She is a Lima Central Catholic and Tiffin University graduate. Sarah is a full-time working mama who enjoys writing about her somewhat crazy, always adventurous life as a mother. She lives in Bath Township with her husband, Paul, and their daughters, her writing inspirations, Maylie and Reagan.