This year I had a plan. Last year I had a plan too – a Pinterest perfect mantle with four delicate snowflakes hanging from ethereal clear thread next to my son’s hand knit stocking. The reality was a tangled mess of invisible thread and crashing snowflakes that refused to stay balanced longer than the time it took to snap a quick picture. I gave up last year – not because the task was so difficult but because the snowflakes represent the siblings our son will only meet in heaven. My hurting heart could only handle those few moments of remembering.
This year there is a fifth snowflake for our sweet Miriam whom we lost at fourteen weeks gestation.
Being well practiced at grief has not made these last few months any easier. The idea of grief being more difficult during the holidays is more than a cliché – it is a truth rooted in the contrast between holiday cheer and sparkle and a broken, hurting soul.
I know I am not alone. My Facebook feed is full of sorrow – children fighting cancer, a mother coping with terminal illness, a father lost to suicide, a child gone in a car accident. Friends share their struggles over coffee and it is clear grief is as universal as breathing. Your grief might be fresh and new like mine or worn and weathered. It doesn’t matter. Time does not heal in the sense that the amputated part of our hearts returns to the way it was before. Instead, in time, we adjust. We adapt to our new, aching normal without the loved ones we lost. And when Christmas and New Year’s come each year, we grieve anew.
As difficult as this season can be, the miracle of Christ’s birth holds a powerful hope. Because His birth, death and resurrection paid the price for my sin and enabled a relationship with the Living God, I am assured that death is not the end of the story. I know I will meet my babies someday. Even more, I know He is here now, active, at work, transforming our tragedy into a beautiful story of His love and faithfulness.
How does this help me navigate family gatherings and holiday parties? Often I’ve asked my clients to shift their focus away from extremely difficult realities onto the hope they have in Christ and now I get to do the same. And it helps. Not because the situation changes but because as I allow the redemptive work of Christ to be the lens through which I experience my sorrow, I have courage. Courage that enables me to grieve well -sometimes saying no to obligations, sometimes saying yes, and always striving to participate with His work in me.
The plan this year involved several trips to Hancock Fabrics and a late night sewing on the couch. Now there are five snowflakes floating below my mantle next to their brother’s stocking. They haven’t crashed yet. I have mixed feelings about my success. Wooden snowflakes are a cheap stand in for the babies we lost. Still, I let them hang, honoring the short little lives they represent, surrendering to the story of redemption that is at work in my life, trusting that the manger is big enough to hold hope and grief together.