Points to Ponder: Missing Someone This Christmas?
Points to Ponder
Missing Someone This Christmas?
Among a stack of cassette tapes I found a rare treasure. While my father was suffering with pulmonary fibrosis, I knew he would not be with us for more than a year, if that. One day (January 3rd, 2002), I stepped away from my denial of the inevitable for a moment. I was checking the answering machine and discovered that Dad, who was still driving and getting out, had returned my earlier call. As usual, he sounded out of breath, but still you could hear the smile of his spirit. In the worst of times, my father could keep it light and make jokes. On this 15 second message, he said he and Mom had been out partying (chuckle . . . inhale) and missed my call. We would talk later, he said. At the beep, I replayed the message and recorded it on a blank cassette, knowing that one day I would hear his voice for the last time. It would be only nine months later when our last conversation took place at a hospital two days before he died.
With a hint of nervousness I popped the tape into my Walkman and listened to his familiar voice. I only wished I had made more tapes of more calls. When I had borrowed a camcorder back in the early days of his illness, I took lingering shots of Dad pushing our toddler Elizabeth around the livingroom on a plastic tricycle he'd given her.
It's that time of year, as I write this, when the calories of Thanksgiving mesh with the so-called "magic of Christmas". The "most wonderful time of the year", the song says. Yet, as a pastor I am ever more aware of what a painful time of year this is; hearing Dad's voice on tape reminded me of this. Dad was okay with dying - everybody's got to do it, he would say. He was practical like that. But so many survivors stop living when a loved one dies. And though we must know that our departed loved ones would not want us to walk about in perpetual mourning, denying ourselves the many other relationships and pleasures this life still has for us, a lot of folks do it anyway. I honestly think that if, as so many people suppose, our loved ones are actually watching us from the "other side," my dad for one would have thought his funeral was a bit much. "Don't you people have better things to do than look at my cold carcass lying there?"
This is not meant to be a morbid "Point to Ponder." I've just been thinking about some terrible losses some families have suffered this year (as with every year). I see some folks who are not getting through grief very well. Some I know are stubbornly choosing to stay in grief. For the loss of one they will ignore the wealth of living loved ones they still have who long to live life with them.
Certainly we must go through grief, let it have its time, let it run us through boxes of tissues. That's good and necessary. But then don't let your loss be the ruler of your life. Grief is a tool, a help to get us through the pain of separation. But it should never be a shackle that orders your day and limits your way.
In the Christian community, scripture reminds us we do not "sorrow as others who have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13b). I know a lot of folks like to believe that departed loved ones are looking down upon their comparatively mundane lives. We can't really know until we are among them, but frankly, I think Dad has far more interesting things to do up there than watching me down here. Really - Heaven versus Hagerstown? Where do you think you'd like to be hanging out? I could be wrong; that's okay. Whatever it is, it is. I expect to see him again.
Is Christmas particularly tough for you this year? Especially if you're in that notorious first year following the death of a loved one, the world has a big hole in it. You wonder how life keeps going on without that one who was part of the very fabric of your existence. If some who have passed away this year could send us a note from "Home", maybe it would be like this.
My First Christmas in Heaven (Author unknown)
I see the countless Christmas trees round the world below
with tiny lights, like heaven's stars, reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so spectacular; please wipe away the tear
for I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear,
but the sound of music can't compare with the Christmas choir up here.
I have no words to tell you the joy their voices bring
for it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me; I see the pain inside your heart,
but I am not so far away and we really are not apart.
So be happy for me, dear one. You know I hold you dear,
and be glad I'm spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
Please love and keep each other as my Father said to do
for I can't count the blessings or love He has for each of you.
So have a Merry Christmas and wipe away the tears.
Remember I'm spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com)