Grief shouts the loudest during holidays. Following the loss of a loved one, those left behind must navigate a minefield of emotions during those first holidays without their beloved. And who wants to talk about such a gloomy subject at a time like Christmas? For most of my adult life, grief was never an issue during this season of tidings of comfort and joy.
That all changed in 2011.
Losing my wife of thirty-eight years to breast cancer in January of 2011, I was ill-prepared to handle birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without her. Now, in 2019, those painful memories have resurfaced as many dear friends seek to navigate those same heartaches that come with the first Christmas without their respective beloveds. For the first time, on TheBuddyBlog.com, I am sharing how I survived the first Christmas without my wife of almost four decades.
My experience was all the more challenging since my wife’s birthday was December 24th. Talk about a double whammy of the grief hammer. Christmas 2011 seemed more like surviving a gauntlet than celebrating a holy season. There was the overwhelming sense that someone was missing. Attending holiday parties alone proved to be awkward. The cloud of grief seemed to suck the air out of our family Christmas party. Naming my book Walking Through the Valley of Tears perfectly described the first year without my beloved. Christmas seemed more like a monsoon of tears rather than a holiday of good cheer.
It had been our family tradition to send out a Christmas letter in mid-December to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and update friends on what our family had been doing. I struggled to write that 2011 letter. How could I explain my situation to so many who asked how things were going? Could I even write a letter? Why not just go the traditional route and send out pre-printed Christmas cards? Or not send anything out at all.
This may sound strange to the cynics among us, but I had never felt the presence of God more than I did in the year following the loss of my wife. God’s promise to “be near the broken-hearted” was no longer a promise. It had become a promise fulfilled. As I left church that first Sunday of December, I became aware that the tears would flow yet again at Christmas. Still, I was strangely looking forward to celebrating the One who had brought comfort to my despairing soul. As I drove the five miles home from Church that day, an idea began to form in my mind. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I knew exactly what I wanted to share with family and friends. I decided to write a short vignette as a metaphor for my walk through this valley.
Here is what I wrote:
The Great Musician’s Birthday
As the Great Musician’s birthday approached, the Pianist was unsure how he would handle the upcoming festivities. Musicians everywhere celebrated the Great Musician’s birthday. They had come to know that playing his music, and his music alone, produced a sound that was far beyond any other. So too had the Pianist and his Partner always looked forward to this annual event.
After all, the Pianist and his Partner had played a duet for almost four decades. With each passing year, this duo had fine-tuned their performances. The longer they played together, the more they sounded as one, as each anticipated the sounds of the other. There was joyous harmony as each focused upon the direction of the Great Musician.
How they marveled at the music they made together. When they played, their melodious tunes made them both want to dance. Most marvelous was how much better they played when they followed the lead of the Great Musician. Oh, how they loved to play his music and how they cherished playing it together!
But the Pianist’s Partner had been promoted to the Great Symphony. Now the Pianist played alone. Or so he tried. The sound was just not the same. The notes seemed dull, and it was hard to read the music through his tears. Was he out of tune or just out of touch? There was no longer any joy in his music. He had always relied on his Partner’s consonant play for the reassurance that he was following the Great Musician’s lead. But now the passion for playing was gone.
The Pianist questioned the Great Musician. Why now? Why her? The Great Musician patiently listened and assured the Pianist that he too would be promoted sometime in the future. But for now, his song was not finished. He needed to continue to play. Sitting alone before his piano, the Pianist still found it hard to play even one note. The music just did not come⎯until the Great Musician sat down beside him, wiped away his tears, placed his hands upon those of the Pianist and began to play.
The sounds came softly at first. Soon, the Pianist realized that he was never really a solo act. The Great Musician had always delighted in playing his music through the heart and hands of the Pianist. And as the Pianist opened his heart to the Great Musician, his soul was flooded with a peace that defied description. Gradually, the music began to flow once again.
Maybe the Pianist would celebrate the birthday of the Great Musician after all.
For Christians everywhere, Christmas is a time to remember the birth of Jesus and reflect on God’s gift of a Savior. Christmas reminds us, as it did the Pianist in the story above, that we are loved and are never alone.