I am a holiday lover. I guess growing up in a home with a mom who decorated for every holiday season rubbed off on me. And the Christmas season is the biggest celebration of the year, where I redecorate the entire house for a month or so. Boxes and boxes of decorations are stacked in each room. As they are emptied of manger scenes and stockings, garland and bows, Santas and snowmen, they are refilled with all the everyday items which are consigned to the garage for the month of December each year. Boxes stacked so as not to block the door to get into the house! Yes, there are that many.
Decorating Day each year cannot come soon enough for me. My husband holds me back until Thanksgiving Day, when we stop at a tree farm on the way home to cut a tree. I insist it has to be up and decorated by the next day. The boys groan as they pull all the boxes from the attic, but they do it for me because they know how much joy I get from decorating. Once the tree is up, it is officially decorating season. The Christmas music blares and I hum and sing along with whoever is helping, most often it is Hannah. It’s like therapy to prepare my home for the coming of baby Jesus.
After having Christmas more or less canceled in 2020, this year, I felt the need to get started even earlier than usual. I think many people felt the same. Grasping for the joy. Hoping the holiday trimmings would bring the warm and fuzzy feelings. Bill and I decided to forego cutting down the tree and buy a precut one. After all, the kids were the main reason for going to a tree farm and they are creating their own traditions now. However, once we got it home and, in the stand, I didn’t have the motivation to actually decorate it because that meant the two of us climbing into the attic to get the boxes. When we finally got up there, I decided we didn’t need ALL the boxes, so I sorted them and only brought down a few.
For weeks I have been walking past them, stacked in the garage, unable to get motivated to bring them in. Unable to find the energy to transform the house into Christmas. Finally, yesterday, I made myself decorate, and guess what? It wasn’t joyous. It was exhausting. Like walking through waist-deep water. After each box, I kept asking myself, how many more? When will this be over?
I actually cried through part of the decorating when I came across Mom’s decorations, which we divided up between us all when we moved her to memory care. It was the first Christmas I have blended them with my own things. I recognized some of them from my grandmother’s tree and it punctuated how we adapt after loss by incorporating memories into our own traditions. It is actually a beautiful practice, but this year I don’t want to blend my mom’s things into mine. I don’t want to look at the loss. I want her to have her things and I want her back decorating her own tree.
The Christmas songs were blaring as usual as I worked, but I wasn’t singing. Tears were close to the surface as I opened each box. Items my kids had given me made the pain of their absence more acute. Empty nest is hard this time of year. But especially now, due to so many losses of friends and relatives recently. Add to that the pandemic that never ends and it just makes me sad. All of it.
I actually left some important boxes in the attic, but I didn’t have the energy to go up and get them, so there are no stockings hanging this year. No snowmen or nutcrackers. No mantle décor. What I did get done brightened up the place. It did give my heart a little cheer, but overall there is grief hanging over me.
I am telling you all of this because I don’t think I am the only one who is feeling it. A subdued sorrow that is currently running in the background of my life. It is not on the surface where it can be seen, but underneath everything, where it catches me off guard. A certain ornament, or a specific song can trigger it. The smells of the holiday set off the tears for no apparent reason. I find myself longing for the way things used to be. Before. Before the pandemic. Before Mom got sick. Before my kids moved away. Before loved ones died. Before the waves knocked me down, over and over again. Before. When the reality hits that going back is not an option, the sting of loss steps in. Even if the pandemic ended tomorrow, things are irreversibly changed and that is a hard pill to swallow.
Yet, I think it is more than the number of losses that are stacking up. They may be the trigger, but what is happening is deeper than a bad year or two. I feel heaven and earth groaning. I feel it in my bones. This longing for wholeness resides in my spirit. This ache for healing sits on my heart like a stone. It is a lament…sorrow for what is…desire for what is coming but is not yet.
All creation is crying out and singing this lament. I want to push past it. To see beyond it. Yet, I am stuck here. In the Season of Sorrow. We all are. Our minds not understanding, but our hearts in unity with the feeling of this grievous season. I don’t think pushing past it, even if we could, is the point. I think sitting with the pain of a broken world, absorbing it to some degree is the idea. It is so easy to live on the surface and brush by the deeper troubles, however, the pandemic and all the uncertainty have forced us to feel things we might not have felt before. Or to get in touch with feelings we have effectively, until now, buried.
I think maybe I have never fully understood what Advent is before. A few weeks on the church calendar. Lighting candles of different colors that mean different things. But this year, I get it. Grief mixed with the hope of glory. Marbleized sorrow and grace. Loss and love, swirled together. And how do we react? What is our response to this out of control world that is drowning in sorrow? Mine is to reassert control. To try to force uncomfortable and out of control feelings into my boxes of decorations in order to make life as it always has been. But that doesn’t work. Circumstances are different, and no amount of pretending they aren’t will make it go back to the way I want it to be.
Instead, I have to give myself grace. I have to allow the grief of this crazy season of history to shape me into a person who understands longing for wholeness. Who sees the need for the baby in the manger. Who aches for healing. Who watches. Who waits. Who cries out when the glory arrives. Until then, I sit. I lament. I feel. I let loss have its way.