This year we will celebrate Christmas for the first time without my mother-in-law. We lost her after a swift battle with lung cancer this past summer and are still getting used to speaking about her in the past tense. She was a quirky and boisterous part of so many of our holidays that it seems incomprehensible to plan gift lists and menus and phone calls home without including her.
She was the first grandparent our children have lost. Lucky kids to have held on to so many of the grands for so long. Our oldest kids have never had a Christmas without shopping for Memaw (an avid collector of all things Elvis, she was usually the easiest to please). Our youngest, who will likely not remember her at all as he was barely three when she died, is already being coached by his older siblings about their grandmother’s famous cinnamon rolls and her borderline-obsessive devotion to the Denver Broncos.
Grief seems at its most heart breaking in December. I suppose it’s because we are knee-deep in family traditions more than at any other time of the year. The hole left behind by someone missing looms larger and deeper when we unwrap special ornaments or bake a traditional recipe or take the year’s photos knowing that there is one less than the year before.
Even if you have your own quirky relative still with you, or you’ve welcomed your Soldier home for the holidays, or you have your home so stuffed with family that there’s hardly room for one more, you are still likely missing someone. And whether it is death or deployment or disagreement or the details of a busy life that is keeping you apart, it stings.
I imagine Mary and Joseph could fully relate to missing the ones they loved. After all, the very first Christmas found them far from home, misunderstood, alone but for each other, and no doubt longing for the peace and tradition and warm embraces of home. Yet they received a gift unsurpassed that night and, because of that gift, they heard the angels sing.
I could not compose a more touching prayer for all of us than Edmund Sears when he wrote “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in 1850. No matter who or what you are missing this year, may you “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”