The Hole Caused by Loss

It is the week before Christmas…and for many, a very sad time.


English: American Christmas Tree
English: American Christmas Tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Normally I write about social justice issues; helping, reaching out to, telling the stories and explaining the plights of “the least of these”is a passion of mine.


But today, I woke up thinking about people who this year will experience the pain of loss as the holy season – the “holy-day” season, comes to its climax.


People who last year had daughters or sons, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, partners …or even beloved pets …will feel the sting of loss in a season of plenty.


I remember the first Christmas I experienced without my mother. It was, put quite simply, horrible. It was as though there was a hole in the house. The tree was up, but I really didn’t care about it. There were gifts under the tree, but the gifts didn’t matter. What I wanted was my mother. I was mad that she was gone. She had been my rock. It was mama who had made the holy-days special and fun; it was her laughter, filling the house as completely as did the scents of the food she would cook, that made Christmas special. It was mama who had urged us out of the house on Christmas Eve to go Christmas caroling with the church youth group to “spread some joy to someone else,” no matter how cold it was, only to greet us at the door when we were done with hot chocolate and something warm to eat.


There was not a lot of money, but there was always a lot of fun.  My four siblings and myself knew that we would not get a slew of Christmas presents; we knew that. But it didn’t matter. For years we had gone out with Daddy to pick up a Christmas tree and we would have an absolute ball decorating it. Mama teased us when we pouted as the live Christmas tree tradition came to a screeching halt and we got a ridiculous-looking aluminum tree with a rotating light (red, yellow, blue, green) because Mama got tired of vacuuming pine needles all year. We were not impressed, but Mama loved us through our disappointment and somehow, that wonderful, familiar feeling of love and fun remained with us, aluminum tree notwithstanding.


The house was always filled with the smell of food. Mama said, “The smell of food means love …” If that was the case, we were not lacking.


When she got sick, when cancer invaded her body and took her out so quickly, it was a blow from which I don’t think I’ve ever completely recovered. The Christmas before she died, she had been in the hospital for a month as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her. That year she missed Thanksgiving. There was no smell of food in the house, nothing that said “mother love.” I mean, there was a turkey, but it didn’t taste good. Nothing was right. The hole created by her absence was too deep and too dark.


The next Christmas, she was gone. The hole became an abyss. Not even the lights of the Christmas season were enough to give me light enough to see past my pain.


So, I know what some people will experience this Christmas.  The hole caused by loss will be in the living rooms or family rooms of so many families. There will be gifts and some laughter, but real joy will be elusive for many this year. It’s just too soon. The wound caused by the loss is too fresh.


Last week I talked with a young woman who will experience loss in yet a different way. Her parents, her family, has disowned her. She will spend Christmas with distant cousins. She’s glad to have a place to stay, but the wound …caused by her loss, will pulsate. Here in Columbus, there is a family who lost what appeared to be a perfectly healthy son to sudden death; he dropped dead after basketball practice. A local sports reporter lost his daughter in a horrific crash. Two friends of mine lost their mothers this year; another friend lost her best friend.


I woke up thinking about people like that …who are putting up a good front, but who see and feel that hole caused by loss. The pain passes, but that dratted hole sticks around. The holidays will not be the same (have not been the same) this year. There is a loneliness that goes deep and begs for a balm.


It gets better. Believe that.


A candid observation …




Traditions Matter

If there is one thing that has importance beyond words in families, it is the establishment of traditions.

When I was divorced from my children’s father, the one thing that kept nagging at me was to establish traditions. I was eager to lessen the trauma of divorce for them; after all, they had not asked to be here, and yet they were, caught in the fray of battling, or at least unhappy, adults.

Traditions, I felt, would do…something. I didn’t know what it would do, but I was convinced it would do something helpful. It would be the glue that they needed in order to feel like a family, in spite of our loss.

I wanted to get special Christmas tree ornaments every year, but that fell through. I made sure we had the tradition Thanksgiving dinner, with their favorite foods, even though we were always in church on Thanksgiving Day. We always went to Christmas Eve service and Watchnight service; they had to come, of course, because they were my children and I was running the services, but I believed being at those services would plant something in them that the world could not give nor take away.

One of the silliest traditions we set was to sing “happy birthday” to each other at the time the children had been born. For my daughter, it was at 1:28 a.m., and for my son, it was at 10 in the morning. It was our “special” time, and I loved it. There were a couple of times I slept through my daughter’s “birth-date-time” and I felt horrible. The tradition was sewn into my soul and hers, too.

This year, the tradition we set came back to visit me, and not a moment too soon. I was asleep, but at midnight (I don’t know what time I actually came into the world) there was my daughter, tapping me lightly, waking me up. She stood there with a brownie that had a candle in it, a card, and, of course, herself! She sang to me at midnight, the very beginning of the new day. My son called and sang to me (that was our other tradition), and sent me yellow roses. When did I tell him yellow roses were my favorite? He laughed at me; you told us, Ma, he said. We practiced giving each other gifts that meant something special. For my son, it was panda bears, and for me, yellow roses. I was speechless. Though this year has been particularly painful for me for a number of reasons, the traditions we set, brought to me by my children, made the pain go away. I smiled. I cried. And I thanked God.

Even as I write this, I tear up. I had no idea how absolutely powerful traditions are until this year. Family is about so much more than just being related by blood. Family is about setting in place those things which will be the glue for you when hard times come. Family is a powerful tool for keeping people sane when insanity is knocking at the door.  For anyone reading, treasure the traditions you have; if you don’t have any specific ones, please set them in place. They have a power of their own. They matter.

A candid observation …