Bittersweet Christmas

It’s just a week until Christmas and we feel ourselves get caught up in the anticipation and expectations of idealized holidays.

Years ago I realized how difficult Christmas can be. My father died of a massive heart attack on December 13. I was just twenty-two years old, working in my first nursing position after college. It was shocking to come home to a ‘white funeral home wreath’ by our front door replacing our Christmas wreath. We were able to make it through that difficult time with the help of the anesthesia of shock and the support of family and friends. I remember that the Christmas that followed was more difficult; the shock had worn off. Replaced by reality, we knew that never again would we see Daddy’s joyful reactions when he opened his gifts on Christmas morning.

Photo by Ignacio Pereira on

Losing someone is hard any time of year, but when it occurs around the Christmas holidays, it gets associated with everything during that season. Over the past weeks, I’ve had news of family and friends who are going through their own hard times and will experience this holiday season differently– as I did all those years ago. One that is especially hard is a mother who is grieving the loss of her son, death by his own hand. Most of us, are either experiencing our own grief or know someone who is. If not in our personal circle, as part of a community we feel the impact of grief. In October, our community was hit by the tragedy of a shooting in the Hedingham neighborhood where five people were killed and lives were forever changed.

Years ago in that December when I was twenty-two, I was experiencing the worst loss of my lifetime, my Daddy–the first man I loved. I was startled that the worst thing could be occurring at the same time as the best thing; I was in love with David, who would become my husband the following August. How could those two extremes be happening side-by-side? As a young woman, I’d never noticed that phenomenon. But now, at sixty-seven, I know that is more common than not; Beauty and Ashes exist together.

Looking back, I see that even during the early grief after Daddy’s death, the bitter truth of the loss of my father, was helped by the sweet moments that others’ provided. During the first two days when people swooped into our home to bring us comfort, several of my close friends came to see me. In those moments, while we moved away to a quiet area of the house to visit, I was able to be temporarily distracted from my pain. Our conversation started with the typical, “I’m so sorry about your Daddy, Connie,” and then we moved onto talking about other, less painful things: what they were doing for the holiday, updates on our mutual friends, plans for the New Year. While I was with them, I escaped the circle around Mama in the den, where she answered the “What happened?” and told about Daddy coming home from work and having a heart attack in that room. Anyone who’s been in pain, understands the relief that comes from an absorbing distraction.

At some point, being in my house, filled with the funeral home wares of register and folding chairs, seeing the ladies from our church taking charge of the kitchen and making sure we were fed— became more than I could stand; I had to escape. I called my friend, Pam and asked her, “Can I come over to your house?” She said, “Sure” and without saying anything else I was welcomed by her and her mother and felt such a relief. The change in environment, to be in a house that wasn’t grieving, was so comforting for those few hours that I hung out. Anyone who’s been surrounded by signs of death, by your house being no longer the same, understands that sometimes the warmth of another, normal house, can be just the help that you need.

Photo by Nathan J Hilton on

Eventually, after a week off, I had to return to my job. As a nurse on a cancer unit, I had to face death everyday I walked onto my floor. How would I be able to complete my shift and not fall apart? My coworkers would want to say something about Daddy’s death. I wasn’t sure I could handle talking about it any more. But then the others, who didn’t know about this major event that had happened in my life, would expect me to carry out my responsibilities like always. How could I when everything had changed? It seemed almost cruel that the whole world was going along as if nothing had happened.

I made it through that first night back on my 4 to 12 midnight shift. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically, when I walked up the stairs to my apartment. Sitting outside my door was a vase of yellow roses. My girlfriends knew it was my first day back and had sent them to brighten the dark day. But what they didn’t know, is that Daddy had a yellow rose bush that he was proud of. I remember him pointing it out to me one day when we were walking around the yard. He loved flowers and as a farmer, he knew how to make things grow. His yard was always well-manicured and that rose bush would have been fertilized and pruned at the right times. Yellow roses were a favorite. Anyone who’s heart has been broken knows the healing power of flowers, pain beside beauty.

Photo by Urs van Osch on

I don’t know what pains you may be experiencing during this holiday season. I don’t know if you are trying to make it through with a fresh grief, or one that continues on and is felt more deeply this time of year.

It is my hope and prayer, that you will be comforted by the sweetness that is also present. By friends and family drawing close to say, “We are with you.” I hope you will find a place that is a respite from the walls of despair that have held you. May your spirit be lifted by flowers or other gifts from nature that are constant–always providing beauty no matter what has happened.

And may we all be these things for others who are hurting, providing the beauty so they’re not overcome by the ashes, providing the sweet to lessen the bitter.

Love and Blessings to you all,


Me and Daddy 1963

9 thoughts on “Bittersweet Christmas

  1. This is well written and covers the subject. Any comment of mine would not to any justice to your words. Those dark days of sadness are there for, sometime your lifetime. What a comfort to be Loved and held in His arms to trudge on and moving forward. Have a Very Merry Christmas. Love and Blessings to you. John,


  2. As always, I thank GOD for you and the great insight and wisdom He has given you. How we reconcile the beauty with ashes is a constant reminder of His love. In this season of dark days, I appreciate the loving light you reflect. Hope we can get together soon.


    • Hey Barbara,
      Thanks so much for your encouraging, always supportive, words. I think of you and your husband and continue praying for God’s best for y’all.
      Wishing you Hope and Light in this holiday season. Yes, it would be good to see you in the New Year.


    • Dear Marie,
      I’m so sorry to learn of your father’s passing. I’m glad my post gave comfort to your aching heart. Such a tender season of loss for you.
      My thoughts and prayers will be with you as you move forward in the days ahead.
      Thank you for what you’ve done over the past year to pull all the posts together each week.


  3. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

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