Don Elly, M.Div.
I was talking to a woman I met who shared that she was headed home for Christmas with family after the recent death of her husband from cancer. As the story of his illness and death was shared it was clear that she was still in deep grief. Married for ten years, it was a second marriage for both. She quickly shared what was troubling her the most. “What do I do with reality that for me Christmas seems empty? Because of his death I am wrestling with meaningless?”
Henri Nouwen, the Roman Catholic Priest, who comforted so many in times of grief came to mind for me. He once wrote, “Death and the loss of a loved one is a universal experience and yet uniquely intensely personal.” We visited about how the holiday had been a source of joy in the past but now felt like something that required more energy than she had at the moment.
First, her experience though painful is normal. Second, with death, like any other life experience, we have a choice. How to respond to her dilemma? I listened and as we got ready to part I almost said automatically, “Merry Christmas!” I did not, the Holy Spirit was at work. I wished her a meaning-full Christmas. It felt right because she has a choice. Acknowledge her loss, then how does she with her family honor the death of her husband? We discussed a few ideas and got ready to leave. She came back and thanked me for caring, listening and for those words of challenge.
Third, and this is my closing observation. Victor Frankel, a concentration camp survivor, commented that those who survived were people who found meaning in their suffering. They chose to share, to give support and this strengthened them. It is a way God helps us redeem suffering as we reach out to others in pain our suffering has purpose. So I want to wish you a MEANING-FULL CHRISTMAS as you find ways to honor deceased loved ones and in your giving you are gifted with a way to cope with loss.
*This is an edited version of my reflection shared at the Blue Christmas Service held at West Des Moines United Methodist Church on December 17, 2018