This December has been a doozy. It has been one thing after the next and all of it covered in heaviness. And although there is a part of me that is used to all my Decembers being that way, this one has just been even more so. As the world prepares to celebrate Christmas and we journey through this advent season and prepare our hearts to remember our King born so many years ago, in my life and the lives of those close to me, this season is first and foremost about loss. And in some ways I find it so very fitting that in this season when I feel the deepest lack that tragedy has stolen from me, that I also celebrate the One who came to fill every single void. My greatest need illuminated, and One who came to fill it.
Every year I feel it. And if you’ve been following along for awhile now, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about it. How the transition of the seasons as we embrace fall and prepare for winter always brings with it the heavy. The awareness of a day that is looming that just reminds me of all that I have lost and the one that I’ve always wanted the most. Each and every year it comes, and I cannot escape it. And I’m not trying to. After the roads that I have walked in my life, I’m not afraid of the heavy. I’m not afraid of embracing deep emotion and sitting in the weight of loss and grief. In a twisted way, I can almost be too comfortable with it at times. We live in a world where we strive for happiness all the time, but I don’t think we can know true joy without knowing true grit. And that is what this month means for me.
There have been so many things about it that have made this December seem weightier than most. Maybe some of it has to do with me now living on the east coast again and there truly being seasons–the outside world reflecting the way my heart so often feels. But mostly it has to do with the whispers of my biggest loss that are always in the air this time of year, and the ways that has been even more illuminated this month. It has to do with back to back funerals this month and being surrounded by people that I love dearly in tremendous pain. Their pain becomes my pain. And their loss reminds me of my own. It has to do with sitting next to my father in my hometown for the very first time that we have been there together since we left the house that I grew up in–the one that was our home, all of us. My dad, my mom, and me. Sitting beside him at a funeral in this place that whispers of who she is and just feeling that yearning so deep within me for the mom who should be here with me.
So many moments of my life, I have felt her lacking. Times when my need for her has just been so great, where her absence has been just so deeply felt. When no matter how much time has passed, her being gone just feels so raw and fresh and real. Because a girl never stops needing her mom. That kind of love doesn’t ever go away.
The house I grew up in has always had a special meaning to me. It is the place where my mom was the most real to me. And when it sold four and a half years ago and my dad and I walked out the door of that house for the very last time, it was one of the absolute hardest day of my life. Not simply because of the house I grew up in now belonging to someone else, but because it felt like losing her again. Losing the place where I felt the most connected to her. It had so much more to do with my mom than it ever did this house I dearly love. And I’ve been back to my hometown a handful of times since that day in the middle of the summer four years ago when leaving was the biggest goodbye I could ever give her. But this month was the first time that I have been back with my dad. And the circumstances that brought us there were unexpected and not happy reasons–not what I pictured us being together in Rochester to be. It was so very bittersweet.
And there we sat one week ago today in a funeral home for a family friend, and I held back tears seeing the love that these people I care deeply about for the one they had lost. But mostly I sat there next to my dad in this place that means the world to me, thinking about how 29 years ago my mom and my dad moved into this house just days after Christmas–my mom nine months pregnant with me. Their joy at owning their first home and preparing for their first child to come into their lives. The place where they were starting their family. And how just one short year later all our lives erupted when a plane exploded overseas and suddenly it was just him and me. One December full of so much excitement and joy, and the very next bringing nothing but tragedy. And each one since then has been so very heavy, and somehow here we were together again, to be with others in their loss but somehow making ours feel so very real again. Then today, once again spent in a funeral home in a different town for a different man, and loss has just been the tune of this season.
It never goes away–the missing her. The longing for her. My need for her will never end. And as I drove home from the funeral home today, that song came on–that Christmas song that really is very cheery and uplifting when you listen to it, but that is just so very deep to me–came on the radio. The only version of it that makes me cry. “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by Darlene Love. And my dad and I used to watch her perform it year after year on the David Letterman show, more often than not on that day that we hate. December 21st. I associate that song with that day because of it. And that one line that gets me in the gut every single time–“you should be here with me.” The cry of my heart at so many times of my life, but even more so at Christmas. All these moments of my life that she has missed because someone else stole them. Someone took her from me. All these moments when she should have been there and that is part of what makes the pain so great. Mourning the loss of her in my life and mourning what could have been.
The story changes as the years go by. You don’t stay in continual mourning. It does get better. Time does actually bring healing and the ability to go on. But it also just takes one small little thing to bring you right back to the thick of it, to trigger the pain of the one who is gone. And being in this place with my dad where that life that should have happened first began brought it back in waves. Traveling to this place in this month that is always colored in loss, because of loss–our first time back together. It was a lot. And then to return to Maryland after a weekend full of unexpected emotion, to be confronted with more loss. It hasn’t made for the easiest of months. So much of my own pain triggered and ignited, and now being surrounded by so many people I love who are also in pain. We’re all steeped in the heavy this year.
But I can never hate it–I just can’t. Even when the tears come back far too easily and my very bones themselves feel her absence, I just can’t hate it. The weight of pain that also points to the deepest of love. The depth of emotions that allowing yourself to sit in actually leads to healing. There was a period of my life that was deeply entrenched in walking through the grieving process, but that was years ago. I actually had to learn what it looks like to live my life when it is not steeped in mourning. And it has been so glorious and full of so many beautiful things. But my goodness, loss is never truly over. Once it is part of your story, it never really ends. It comes and goes and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. And I don’t begrudge those moments. They are simply part of what it means to live without the one you love. That kind of love will always be worth the heavy to me. The weighty moments when her presence is just so lacking and she should be here with me. Because I have never for a second doubted that our moments of complete brokenness and tragedy are worth it. They are. We can’t see it fully, and I am okay with that. I don’t need to know all the whys right now because I know the One who does. And that’s enough for me. Knowing that He is making it all beautiful somehow–that even in the deepest valleys I have had to walk, there will be a day when even that sorrow and pain will be wiped away–only Jesus could make that kind of pain worth it. So just as my heart cries out for wanting her, it cries out all the more for wanting Him.
So here I am sitting directly in the heavy, and I am okay. Because even though I cannot fully feel the weight of it yet, that very baby who was born in a stable in a time so unlike my own, came into the world and completely changed the story. Pain and grief and brokenness will never be where they end. Not when we know Him. And that is what makes it worth it, even when it feels like it is not. He makes it all worth it just by being who He is.
Christmas to me is always first and foremost about loss, but somehow that makes me so much more ready and able to celebrate the birth of my King. Because it reminds me just how much I need Him.
She should be here with me. She should. And she’s not and the pain of that fully overwhelms it at times. But He is here with me. And although that doesn’t take away the grief of it all, it sure does change the color of it all. It means I can sit here in the overwhelming tide of sorrow and know that I am not on my own in it. And that truly is enough. He is more than enough.
That’s the King that I celebrate at Christmas. The One that has truly changed the tide of this dark world that we live in. The One who takes our deepest night and turns it into light. Because as cliche as it sounds, it is also tremendously true. It is only in the darkness that we can truly see the light. And when that darkness is as black as night, you better believe it makes the light that much more bright.