Confronting death during the Christmas season is a very complex and burdensome weight to bear. With festive scenes and sounds of joy abound, those who experience the loss of a loved one at this time of the year find the emotional pain beyond description. I know firsthand. My father passed away two weeks before Christmas in 1971 and a day any 12 year-old child anticipates with great excitement suddenly became a period of tremendous grief. It is why I feel so badly for the families of victims of the Newtown Connecticut shootings; particularly the parents of children. Their lives forever altered, those who celebrate Christmas must now find meaning in their loss on a day that represents new beginnings and hope for the world.
Waking up on Christmas morning 41 years ago and knowing I would not see my dad when I came down the stairs was devastating. There was silence that morning in our house despite my mother’s best efforts to sustain some sense of normalcy. Upon opening presents I can recall looking at my mother and sobbing; no gift could replace the one thing I wanted most – my dad. Sadly, I have experienced other Christmas related losses. It was on Christmas Eve that I was at the hospital when a dear older cousin, Bill, left this world and now remembering being confused by why God did not see fit to at least allow him to make it to Christmas morning. Then there was the Christmas Eve when we received word that a friend and former neighbor had been killed in a tragic shooting. When my wife and I arrived at Rick’s house minutes later, my heart sunk at the sight of unopened presents under the tree and his wife walking down the staircase with his suit in hand on the way to the funeral home. The holiday classic “Silent Night, Holy Night” took on a whole new meaning as it was sung at his funeral days later.
Christmas should be a time of celebration and renewal emboldened by the promise of an answer to the troubles of this world. Yet, for too many families, the season’s joy is punctuated by sadness. Now, families in Newtown face the emptiness of a Christmas framed by the loss of those they hold dear.
If there are any words I can offer, they would be to take comfort and learn from my own personal experience. On the first Christmas evening without my father, after a long and very emotionally draining day, I stepped outside and into the crisp winter air. Looking up, searching for an answer, the star that I had been taught was the sign of the birth of Jesus, shone brighter than I had ever noticed. In fact, it appeared to be pulsating. With tears streaming down my face, a smile appeared because at that moment I knew my father was alright and that what I had been taught in Sunday school was true. There is hope and a place of comfort far beyond the outer reaches of our earthly existence. Now, though sadness still comes upon me this time of the year, every Christmas Eve, just before midnight, I walk outside and seek the star and connect with my father.
My prayers this season are with the families of the Newtown victims. They face a difficult day next week and their hearts will be heavy. Parents will be crushed by the missing sounds of gleeful children and their Christmas morning smiles. Arms will ache for the hugs of little ones and cameras will not capture the joyous scene of opening packages left by Santa. Holiday music will only make the day that much more difficult and seeing others celebrate will only bring anguish and anger. It will be a very difficult and gut wrenching day.
Still, through faith joy will return and broken hearts will mend, if not heal. So, if I could impart words of comfort to these families, my message would be the one that I heard at the funeral of our friend Rick. The minister appropriately framed his passing in the song “I’ll be home for Christmas.” My friends in Newtown don’t despair. Through your tears you will see Christmas again and your loved ones. Just know that they are indeed “home” and though missing you, are celebrating at the feet of one who has taken away their pain and restored their joy. They are home for Christmas.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com