Every Christmas part of my viewing list is the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” I love the music and imagery presented of a family united in their living, even when they don’t agree. I am inspired every time I watch this movie, along with many others on my Christmas viewing list, to gather my family to me and hold them close. This Christmas season, however, is one of the most difficult I can remember in my 46 years on this earth, and gathering my family to me will not happen this year. I feel I am caught in the bonds of remembrance, whose embrace is bittersweet, and my heart hurts with the reckoning of the way things are in relation to what I would like them to be.
This year we lost my 19 year old niece to suicide, and the impact of it will ripple through our familial structure forever; the devastation firmly seated with my sister and her family. There are no words; just no words to define what has happened here. I can’t even explain what this has done to our outside structure. If there were narrow roads of communication between us due to the erosion of time and life choices, the destruction wrought by this act has obliterated many of those narrow roadways between all of us, and all that remains are cavernous holes.
You see, when a tragedy happens, there is either enough integrity in the structure that it endures, or it simply blows apart, because there was not enough steel there to hold it together. Pardon my mixing of imagery, but this seems to need multiple visual constructs. For some of our structure there simply was not enough steel to hold things together. Love remains. We love one another, but love is not always enough contrary to pop culture.
I cannot speak for the other members of my family. I have an idea of where they are in the process, but when you have a family of introverts, with only a couple of extroverts seaming everything together, it is difficult to get everyone communicating, and introverts rather often feel misunderstood, because we tend to withhold who we are and tend not to express what really, deeply moves us.
So, for me, I find this Christmas season to be somewhat in opposition with the sorrow and hurt in my heart for my sister and her family, for my parents who lost a grandchild, and the rest of my siblings and me who lost someone we cared about and who feel impotent in the aftermath. I want to celebrate and wrap up in the ribbons of joy produced only during this magnificent season, but they are singed by the fires of grief that threaten to burn down every beautiful moment possible. And even though I need desperately to experience some beauty, it seems fitting and right somehow that more is lost in the blaze than the broken hearts that struggle through it.
I find myself at sixes and sevens as I pursue Christmas traditions. I see the family on the movie I referenced above, celebrating, and I want to make cookies and pies with my siblings like we used to; chatting animatedly and laughing together. But then I am pierced as I think of my little sister struggling to move through every day and find the meaning therein, most significantly through this Christmas season. I am held hostage as the two vibrant heart moments collide, and I just want to go back to bed.
My people tend to turn into themselves the more deeply we feel. I confess to be one of the worst offenders in this category, but I am trying to communicate with my husband and share with him the mixed up menagerie of exhaustive and conflicting emotions and thoughts impacting me during this season.
I have little rhyme or reason for expressing my own grief. I can say that I grieve more for my sister than for my niece, whom I believe is in heaven no longer suffering. It is possible to experience loss so deeply for someone else that you cannot function well through it. It is possible to hurt so bad for them that you are wounded from that alone. I had no idea.
But, I am learning. I am understanding that even now there are so many more ways the heart can be rendered incompetent in daily functioning. It is part of living. Having a heartbeat means it can be wounded, and that it can heal. That is the thing to look at.
So as I sit staring at my beautiful Christmas tree, I am reminded that the beautiful in my life does not come from the trappings that make it glow. What makes my life beautiful is what I experience and the fact that I am able to care enough to be grieved; the fact that even though we can’t go back to those carefree times of laughing through the messes made in the kitchen, we can endure and love another through the messes of life. Even if we don’t understand one another. Even if we can’t find the light in the dark. If love is there, “hope remains while the company is true” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).
God does not give up on his children. He does not do bad things to us. Stuff happens. I do not pretend to have the answers to the difficult questions. I quit asking a long time ago. What I know is that he has come through for me more times that I have suffered. I call him Yeshua (the Rescuer), because even though he has not removed mental illness from my life; even though I struggle every day, not with the normal issues in life, thought they press in, I have to grapple with finding reasons every day not to end my life. So, I know the price of suffering. I know who my people are, and regardless of what I do not understand, of what I have lost, of what my precious sister has lost, I know what I have gained and who rescues me every day.
So, this Christmas, as I straddle the fire flow burning a black chasm through my memories and traditions of Christmas, I am reminded of what remains through it all: Faith, Hope, and Love.