The Blue Side of Christmas
By Michele Prince
Advent 2008 marks a turning point in my life. It was this time fourteen years ago when we received the news that our 12-year-old son Will had stage IV cancer. We spent Christmas Eve afternoon waiting for him to come out of an emergency surgery, sort of understanding that everything had changed but not realizing that it was our last Christmas with him. Will died on the Sunday after Easter in April 2009, about four months after his diagnosis.
So how do we all handle the holiday season with its frenzy – the shopping and decorating and parties and piped-in holiday tunes in the stores – if we are not feeling very festive? It can be overwhelming and filled with external pressures. As I approached Advent and prepared for our first Christmas without Will in 2009, my goal was comfort. I did the things that I could emotionally handle and let other things go. I thought about where we should be and whom we’d want around us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, realizing that it would be incredibly hard to do that first Christmas without a crowd to distract us. My other goal was communication. My husband and I talked with our son Alex, who was only 9 at the time, about what would make it easier for him to enjoy the holiday. He wanted to be at home and he wanted his cousins with us. We stayed home and had a house full of family. I will never forget sledding in our neighborhood on Christmas Eve morning (it snowed a lot in December 2009) and then arriving at the 4 pm Children’s Pageant and filling an entire pew.
You can’t erase the emptiness and pain you are feeling, but you can find ways to fill in the roughest edges and get through, maybe even enjoy, the days that initially seemed unbearable.
What changed for me that Advent of 2008 was how I felt about Christmas. It lost some of its sparkle. After Will died, I realized that I could decide not to participate in things that were just too hard. I gave up on Christmas cards for many years – it seemed impossible to send out a picture of us without Will. Plus, what to say? None of the typical greetings reflected my situation anymore. Even fourteen years later, I still allow myself to NOT feel merry and bright all the time. I am honest with people about how I feel, and I’ve accepted that not everyone I know will remember how hard this season is for me. I think I’ve also learned to be on the lookout for un-Christmasy feelings in others and let them know I care.
What did not change for me that year was how I felt about God’s love for me or God’s presence as realized in the love of our family, our friends, and the people of St. Columba’s. Through God’s mercy and grace, I stayed connected to this church, became a Stephen Minister, and now serve on the staff – all of which have made my life feel rich and full.
I try to spread God’s love by caring for others in need, not just at Advent and Christmas but throughout the year. I now approach this season of preparation and waiting with an attitude of thanksgiving for what I have and an active seeking out of the people and places that bring me comfort. I hope you experience some of the comfort of “Emmanuel: God with us” this season, even if you can’t rejoice.
Join us Sunday, December 18 at 5pm for our Annual Blue Christmas Service