Christmas Grief

While going through my books, I came across a little book by Harold Ivan Smith, A December Grief: Living with Loss While Others are Celebrating. In his introduction, Smith tells the story of a king who had a magnificent diamond except for one thing, in the very crown it had a long scratch. Because the king was used to perfection, he offered great riches to anyone in his kingdom who could remove the scratch. But diamonds are hard, the gash was deep and none of the kingdom’s jewelers could remove it.

Then one day a young man showed up who believed he could repair the diamond. Every day the man came to the palace to work on the diamond. Every day the king would ask, “Is it repaired?” and the young jeweler would reply, “Not yet.” After a long time, the man presented the diamond back to the king. The king looked at it and said, “Yes, this is perfect.” The young man had used the deep gash as the stem of a beautiful rose that he had etched into the diamond. Our grief never subsides, there is always a deep gash in our hearts, but God, like that jeweler, is able to transform the deep hurt into something of beauty.

Our family is acquainted with December grief. In 2000 just after celebrating my father’s 80th birthday with our annual family Thanksgiving gathering, my nephew Erik, 27, died from an epileptic seizure. His funeral marked the third time we stood at the graveside of a niece or a nephew before Christmas. Our niece Katherine died 35 years ago on December 12. A few years after Katherine’s death, we stood at the grave of David Kreswell, who had lived twelve years beyond the still birth of his twin brother William. Each of these deaths brought an empty place at the table of our family gatherings.

It will be 16 years this year that we have celebrated Christmas without my mother. She died four months after Erik died. My mother loved Christmas. She started shortly after Halloween preparing the house for Christmas and hosting 10-15 parties with hundreds of people attending. The emptiness from her absence is felt very deeply, especially in December.

This December would have been the 40th anniversary of my sister Kitty and her husband Bruce. The Christmas before Bruce died in January, Wanda and I sat at the table with Bruce and Kitty and prayed that God would give them the best Christmas ever. God granted that prayer.

I know from personal experience what it means to go through the holidays without someone you love. But I also know that our God is a transformative God who can take the deepest pain, the most irremovable gash in our lives, and teach us to be joyful again and bring the hope of the incarnation of Christ into our world, our lives and our pain. May God carry us with joy through whatever December grief we may be experiencing.

Bill Neely