The Gift of Christmas

I believe that the Holiday season is the most difficult period when a person is grieving. This feeling never stops while so many memories flood our very beings. Most of us can recall sharing good times, okay times and not-so-okay times in celebrations with our families and friends. I am thankful to God for all of these but especially for keeping me focused on the good times.

My husband, John, died in August of 1998. Of course, being summertime, I didn’t look ahead to the holidays. I was too busy doing all of the paperwork and the cleaning up of medical bills, etc., and learning to live in our home by myself. We all know how hard this adjustment is so I was thankful I had a few months before Christmas. But eventually I had to think about it and make plans.

I had a wonderful grief counselor whom I saw weekly. She charted my journey — listening, praying and being attentive to any red flags. Not only was that her job but I think she truly understood, having been through a similar loss herself. Even in counseling, our personal lives intertwine making us very good at our jobs. I know because that was also my profession.

At the end of October, on a cold, windy, Fall day, she looked me in the eye and said, “All right, Maryann, it’s time to look ahead to Christmas and think about what you CAN do.”  I thought the word CAN was an integral part of her thinking that was contagious to my thinking. Together, we discussed not what I should do or even what I had done in the past, but rather what I felt I could do now.

Decorating was the first thing I eliminated. Going into the attic and taking down the ornament boxes was an impossible task for me even with the help of my son.  Baking was another thing that I chose not to do because it had always been cumbersome for me. I would much rather eat someone else’s home-baked treats.  So those two preparations were both eliminated for that year.

She asked me what I thought I COULD do. Thinking for a half of a minute, I said, “I think I can prepare for Advent by reading my Bible and really enjoying my church services, even attending extra Christmas programs offered to the community. John had been sick last Christmas — not physically but filled with preoccupation from bad test results, so we had not done very much. But this year, I could and I did.

I learned to really LIVE the hope of our CHRIST CHILD. I read the New Testament lessons about Mary and Joseph and how they had to LOOK to our Father for reassurance about this huge task of bringing into the world a little baby. A baby that would save the world.

My son, our son, had been born on the 23rd of December so my life as a mother had begun sharing a similar joy as the Holy family had experienced. I remember being in the hospital, gazing into the face of my child, thanking God for this present and presence in our lives. To this day, my heart quickens with thanksgiving for the gift of being a mother.

I took these memories and added them to my preparation for my first Christmas without my husband. I think this helped me survive the many hours of being alone and also the realization that I was not alone. God was by my side during all of the lead up to Christmas Day.

Let me share the gifts He gave to us . . . Snow on Christmas Eve; a full, glowing moon whose light lit up the world’s darkness; calls from family and friends and visits from them too as we all accepted John’s absence; God’s smile as we stood together — my son and daughter-in-law — looking at the beautiful gravestone in place a few days before Christmas; how we were sure we heard John’s voice in the heavenly choir. In fact, on Christmas morning, with a shining sun overhead, I arrived at the cemetery, rolled down my car windows and cranked up the radio, sending  waves of heavenly music over the headstones with JOY TO THE WORLD!

Now, eighteen Christmases later, I am retelling these memories and reliving the gifts of their meaning. My prayer is to always remember God is with us and that He gave us His most precious gift . . . JESUS. His name is joy on our lips!

About the Author

Maryann Hartzell-Curran, a retired educator and counselor, has written a personal account of her journey through the first year of grieving the loss of her husband in her book, “From We to Me,” to help support those who have suffered the loss of a loved one.
Maryann founded a successful family therapy practice and taught in the public and private sectors. She also founded and directed a church-based preschool in Lombard, Ill., and gained experience working with the elderly as director of a senior dining center. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in counseling from Illinois Benedictine University.

Comments (1)

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  1. Bobbie Graser says:

    Your blog brings back so many memories of my first Christmas without Ken. He died February 17, 2007. In October of 2007 my daughter and I became estranged from each other. So I lost two family members. I did do a tree and some decorations. Celebrated with my son and twin granddaughters. But it was really a difficult time. This year I’m grieving for my sister and my 15+ year old dog who passed in July. But I’m learning to focus on my blessings and to be thankful for them.

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