As a child, Christmas was a time of year that felt magical. I can’t quite put it into words, but there was something inside of me that would reignite this time of year. Traditional memories made with family, decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping gifts, singing Christmas carols, watching movies – the overall cheerful mood and buzz this time of year sent that magical feeling all throughout our home.
As I grew older, that feeling inside dimmed a bit, but there was still a little spark that would reignite each year with the first snowfall. When I became a mom, and I was able to see Christmas through my child’s eyes, the magic not only returned, it intensified. It was now time for our little family of three to make new traditions. Santa visiting the neighborhood, the oohs and awes of Christmas lights, the squeals of delight with the first snow fall, the countdown to Christmas, watching classic movies, seeing the stores come alive with everything Christmas, and watching the love of the holiday season evolve through Braden’s eyes was truly magical. I still remember his third Christmas with the excitement of seeing Santa, attending Trees on Parade and the Christmas light parade, building a gingerbread house, helping to decorate the tree, reading his favorite book, “Can You See What I See, The Night Before Christmas,” and the excitement in his voice with every light display we passed, “Christmas lights mama, Christmas lights!!” These were moments we savored as we tried our best to carve new traditions into our holiday season, making Christmas the most magical time of year.
For some folks, “magical” is not the word they would use to describe Christmas time. They might replace this adjective with words like stressful, empty, painful, hopeless, or other feelings that wouldn’t quite paint the picture with delight. Sadly, I know all too well when the “magic” plays a disappearing act. When, poof, just like that, it’s all gone and what was once a dancing flicker of excitement has now been replaced with emptiness, heartache, and an echo of sadness that is almost deafening. How could a season once loved for everything it held become a time of year that is most dreaded?
I’ll never forget reading the following quote from another grieving mother:”Undo it, take it back, make every day the previous one until I am returned to the day before the one that made you gone. Or set me on an airplane traveling west, crossing the date line again and again, losing this day, then that, until the day of loss still lies ahead, and you are here instead of sorrow.” It took my breath away reading this as it had truly captured how I felt every moment after Braden died. Death leaves a hole like no other, a void where new traditions, magical moments, and everyday joy once sat. As tinsel, lights, and holiday cheer danced around me, I found myself avoiding anything Christmas at all cost. If I could just close my eyes, shut the blinds and hibernate until January 1st, survival of the holiday season might be possible. Because the thought of the alternative, watching others celebrate with their children the way we had celebrated with Braden, might not allow my heart to recover the depth this heartache would ensue. The big, cavernous hole that death had left behind was swallowing me up little by little.
As I sit here writing, I weep remembering this time in my grief when the reality of death left me grasping and searching for answers, “What do we do, how do we move forward, how do we survive this? This. This right here. This time when my son should be here embracing another year of fun, magical, twinkling Christmas lights, and family traditions. Dear manual on grief, what do we do? How do we embrace the holiday firsts with our Owen when we are suffering our holiday firsts without our Braden?”
“Where there is love, there is hope.”
Owen Nicholas – December 2009
Seven years later and these moments can be just as difficult to relive. Seven years later, however, allows me to look back and see how we survived and how it is has been possible to see the magic of Christmas come to life once again in this house. It started with our special Santa Clause who visits our neighborhood (and house) the first Saturday of December. I closed the blinds and told myself not to look outside as the firetruck drove by – this had been our favorite tradition with Braden. To our surprise, the door bell rang and when Rich answered the door, in came Santa requesting to hold baby Owen. My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude. This is the same Santa who places an ornament picture on the firehouse Christmas tree of Braden to honor and remember him every year. Love was and has been all around us, either physically embracing us, sending gifts to honor and remember Braden, or being in prayer as we embrace another holiday without him. Each step forward has been through the love, support, and generosity of others who have come along side us in our grief.
As time moved on, and as each Christmas passes, I have been able to clear away the fluff and frill, the hustle and bustle, and put the meaning of Christmas into a greater perspective. There is a beautiful spirit of giving that seems to linger about and illuminate this time of year – it is truly an amazing thing to witness. What’s even more beautiful is the celebration of the birth of Christ. There’s this beautiful, peaceful, magical feeling when I think of Jesus and all that He has done for me in my life. He takes away my anxiousness, fear, feelings of not being enough, my anger, sadness, struggles, and He replaces it with rest and the peace in knowing I can trust Him and His plan for my life. “Jesus’s peace results in a quiet conscience, a restful mind, and a hopeful heart”- Proverbs 31 Ministries.
Christmas Today: Our children are now seven and three and magic is all around our house, from our little elf Cooper, to the Advent Calendar they cannot wait to open every morning, it’s Christmas fun everywhere. There is still, however, an emptiness that sits and is ever-present in my heart. As the tears wade in the shallow end, ready to spill out at a moment’s notice, I can finally see joy and heartache co-existing. As odd as that may seem, it is progress. There was once a time when my laughter was hollow, and I didn’t know if joy would ever fully return without the guilt of its existence.
Final Thoughts: Christmas really isn’t about the tangible things we see and may even receive; it’s about the things we cannot touch and what we feel within our hearts. It’s the presence of hope, generosity, kindness, and the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Wherever you are in this season of life, I pray that hope can ignite in the very depths of your soul, allowing a spark of Christmas magic to be felt – a kind of magic that doesn’t extinguish on December 26th but burns brightly inside of you, allowing the darkness to slowly fade.
Luke 2:11-14 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”