Dear Grieving Mother at Christmastime,

I see you. I hear your cries, as they were once my cries. Your pain was and still is my pain. Your precious baby or sweet child will not be forgotten, and will always be an important part of who you are. I will remember with you and walk this journey alongside of you.

Grief has often been described as an ocean. Author Vikki Harrison quotes,

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

The waters tend to be calm during quiet times as we navigate life after a loss. Just when you think you have a handle on grief an important date pops up, a song playing on the radio that brings up memories and bittersweet emotions, or the holidays sneak up and come crashing down around us knocking us off our feet. It is during those times that all we can do is swim and fight to stay afloat. 

The holiday season comes and everywhere you go you are told to be happy. “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!”

Is it possible for grief and joy to coexist?

For many the holidays are the hardest to smile through. Whether your loss was during pregnancy or your child was well over 18 you are faced with reminders that someone very important from your life is now missing. Christmas carols on the radio are about children’s laughter in the air. The malls are filled with young children whose smiling faces are eager to meet Santa with their sweet demands. Cards fill your mailbox adorned with photographs of your loved one’s children. You are happy to receive these cards and love the families that are in your life immensely, but a part of you is missing your child’s smiling face, or wondering what your child’s smile would have looked like. The heart that once beat inside your own body is no longer. It’s a strange place to find yourself in, teetering on the thin tightrope of jealousy and pain. It is then more than ever that we need our church community to help us grieve while keeping us accountable.

Loss can give rise to anger, discontent, jealousy, and bitterness if we are not careful to keep our hearts aligned with God’s.

A few days ago, I was listening to Christmas music as I prepared my 10-year-old son’s breakfast when the song, “Mary Did You Know” came through the speakers, filling the room and touching my soul. For the first time in my life I stopped and listened to the words and began to fall apart. I began to think about Mary as a bereaved mother, not the typical way we are used to seeing this young woman during the present season. Though Mary was faithful she was human and therefore could not have known every bit of what the future held for her oldest son. Her son was God himself who came to Earth as a babe. He had to be held by a woman He himself had created. He had to be nursed and nurtured by those He nurtures. One verse in the song asks the young mother if she knew as she kissed her baby’s face that she was truly kissing the face of God? That made me think did she know that in some 30 years she would be grieving at His feet?  In Luke 2 while Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord they met a man named Simeon. Simeon was described as a righteous man. Led by the Holy Spirit he went to meet the couple and the young Messiah. He took Jesus in his arms and praised God.

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” ”Luke 2:34-35 NIV.

I wonder what Mary was thinking as this man spoke to her. Did she understand what he was telling her? If she knew what this meant would she have treated Jesus a little bit differently? Did she kiss His face more often? Did she hold him a little longer during the sleepless infant nights? Did she hug him a little tighter when he was a young boy with scraped knees? 

Burying a child is one of the hardest things a parent has to do in life and I can’t imagine that this was any different for Mary. “Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” John 19:25. Another version of this verse reads “25 By the torture stake of Jesus, however, there were standing his mother and his mother’s sister; Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.” Mary stayed close to her son and watched helplessly as He was tortured and killed. Memories surely flooded her mind as she grieved. Did Simeon’s words now hit home to her, as the sword of grief struck her heart? Is it possible to survive a wounded heart? The answer is yes, with community. After a loss we often find ourselves wanting to hide and suffer in solitude but we need others more than ever in our times of need. One of Jesus’s last words as he was dying on the cross was to make sure His mother was not alone, and more importantly that she was with fellow believers. Mary had other children but Jesus left her in the care of one of his disciples. His brothers at the time did not believe. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

John 19:26-27 NIV. Later in Acts we find Mary surrounded by many believers praying constantly. It is believed she was among those who got to see Jesus’ face again after the resurrection.

Can grief and joy coexist? Is there a secret for a Christian to have joy while suffering through the loss of a child? Can we be both joyful all the while grieving?  

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:6.

Peter explains what while we will suffer many different trials in life we can rejoice in our salvation. We have been saved and that is something to be joyful in even in the midst of grief. Grief is a normal emotional response to a loss and one that should not be rushed as there is no timeline to how one will cope. It is OK to feel the emotions, the sadness, the aguish all the while being joyful in Truth. Mary may have seen her precious boy’s face again on earth, something we will not get to do. We will see our child once more though, and there is hope in that!

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