On the pilgrim way: ‘It is a bittersweet time’
Sheila Maxey sees grief and new birth
Since our granddaughter, Ciara, committed suicide two months ago, I have phoned her father – our son, Peter – most days. As I listen, I hear the healing power of the everyday: Ikea with nine-year-old Poppy, to choose a wardrobe; the village coffee morning; painting children’s faces at the school pumpkin party; delight over Poppy’s fiddle lessons (our son is an excellent fiddle player); cutting the lawn.
However, Christmas is coming and it is not at all everyday. It is a bittersweet time of memories, traditions, family get togethers. Friends of ours have, for years, avoided Christmas by going on a walking holiday. A dear friend whose husband died this year plans to deaden the pain of this first Christmas by helping at a homeless shelter. My husband’s father died a month before our son was born in December 1963. Friends, rather tactlessly, said to my mother-in-law: ‘At least you’ve got a new life coming.’ She did not want that new life, she wanted her husband. We spent that Christmas with her – but I was too happy with my new baby to understand how she felt.
After my sister died at 49 and her children came to live with us, I realised how angry grieving people could be. They were angry with God, as well as with their father. On Christmas Eve, our tradition is that we light candles (real ones!) on the tree, read the Christmas story and pray. Some of my sister’s children boycotted it – they sat in the kitchen telling us to let them know when the ‘religious bit’ was over.
Ciara will not be there on Boxing Day when we have our big family gathering. Boxing Days over the years play through my memory: Ciara being amusingly gloomy; Ciara talking computers with her cousins; Ciara playing cards with her sister and ignoring the party. Never again.
But death is not the only loss exposed at our Christmas gatherings. After 15 years together, a close family member has separated from her partner. Will they both come on Boxing Day – or must we too lose him? The journey is too hard for my brother-in-law to come on Boxing Day. The time will come when we can no longer host the party. Christmas throws all the markers of time into sharp relief.
I try to put these thoughts behind me and reach out, rather blindly, for the good news of Christmas. It is about God coming into the everyday. It is about a wonderful new birth, in very difficult circumstances. Grieving, angry, sad people may not be ready for the new birth, but it is there all the same. I, for one, will be helped by the carols:
Hark! The herald angels sing
glory to the new-born King
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the December 2018 / January 2019 edition of Reform