This will be the first Christmas we don’t visit New York in years. We will not be flying in for time with Sal’s family. Partly due to the pandemic, partly because we have a kid in a sport that never stops, and partly because it seems like this year might be too difficult to be together, too painful after losing Sal’s mom last year.
The holidays are amplifiers. Everything is brighter. The cheery moments are cheerier. Shiney things seem shinier. People are more giving-er (had to). But that also means that grief can be heavier. Tension, heartache, and loneliness are all amplified too.
My father-in-law didn’t want to decorate. He wanted to avoid as many reminders as possible that the love of his life is gone. When Sal’s mom passed, I reached out to a couple of friends that had recently lost a parent or had a spouse that lost a parent. It’s funny. You can minister to lots of families through loss but it’s different when it’s your own. They had some great advice. Things I have passed along to other friends that have navigated similar situations. The crux of their advice…just be there. But like really just be there. Just be. And just let them be. Not leave them alone kind of let them be, but more, wherever they find themselves in any given moment, whatever they are feeling for that time, just let that be what it is.
I tried making stuffing like my mother-in-law makes. I had written down a few of her recipes years ago. I use the word “recipe” lightly because it’s a list of ingredients with a general idea of steps/order and little to no measurements. It’s literally “get these three or four things (almost always including an ingredient that I swear you can only find in a New York deli) and mix them together and bake them at 350 for a while.” Needless to say, it’s going to take me a few rounds to figure out how to make this stuff.
I want a recipe for grieving. Actually, I would like a “recipe” for all the things. But it doesn’t work that way. Very few things actually work that way. Often, the best we can do, maybe it actually is the best thing to do is to just be there.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1
My favorite part of the Christmas story is that God came to be here. To be here with us. But we try and craft a recipe for that too. I was talking with a group this past week and we were discussing how we still feel like if I am good, if I am doing the right things, then God will show up. Then, God will do good things for me. If I mix just the right amount of effort, with the perfect measurement of patience, and bake all that together with the perfect words and a proper attitude then…voila…God will show up. But God just showed up any way, even with all that “sin and error pining.” And, he keeps showing up. He keeps just being here.
I’m sure for each of us something is amplified this holiday season. Something probably feels a little bit darker, but maybe some things also feel a little bit brighter. Or maybe you know someone that is having an amplified season in some difficult ways. Let’s remember to just be there for each other. And let’s make time to remember that God is here, just being here, just being with you.