Christmastide and the Tide of Grief

Written By Mary C. Earle

When I was newly married, my maternal grandmother died suddenly of a massive stroke onSend a card to friends and loved ones December 26, 1971. Years later, my mother died of end-stage kidney disease on December 27, 1996. And then, on December 26, 2005, my older son Bryan died of brain cancer.

For my family, the seasons of Advent and Christmas of necessity focus on both Alpha and Omega, on beginnings and endings. Some years we have been all but swamped by strong tides of grief. Other years we have been able to mark the time, to prepare our hearts, to receive the glad tidings of Christmas carols, albeit with tears.  

We have learned over time that we need to be intentional about which familial rituals we need to retain, and which need to be changed.  After Bryan died in 2005, we decided to suspend shopping for gifts except for the very youngest of the extended family. Now we enjoy a kind of freedom in letting go of the pressure of shopping. 

Advent and Christmas have become quieter celebrations marked by deep gratefulness for those who are with us in this life, and those who celebrate in eternity. Meals have become a happy, tender focus, and our familial liturgical calendar always includes San Antonio Mexican feast food on December 26: tamales, chili con carne, guacamole and pralines.  

At some point during the Twelve Days of Christmas, I make my grandmother’s sausage kolaches, using the recipe she received from her Czech mother in law. Those kolaches link us to these dear family members, who have died, and serve as food for a kind of familial communion with those who have gone before.

We mark the Twelve Days of Christmas with  remembrances of gatherings and goodbyes, of  living and of dying. In the midst of those days, we find ourselves being acutely aware that our True Love has given us eternal life, and that even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Copyright © 2010 Mary C. Earle.