Once at a church Christmas party, I was really struggling emotionally. One of the students at our school, a teen who seemed to have everything going for them, had committed suicide. For some reason at a yearly IFO party, this came home to roost for me and I was miserable. The decorations, laughter, refreshments, gifts and such were swirling all around me but not in me and I could barely keep my "game face" together.
Fortunately, one of my friends at the party was a pastor/counselor and he left the joy of the celebration to go with me into the nearest available room - which happened to be a children's classroom - so that we could talk. I remember that we sat in these impossibly small chairs while he listened and I poured out my grief and frustrations.
Then he asked me what 2 + 2 equaled. I looked at him like he was crazy and said, "Four."
He said, "In math, yes. In life, no."
I told him I didn't understand.
He said sometimes in real life, 2 + 2 equals 5.
I told him I still didn't understand so then he explained the obvious - that we want real life events to add up neat and tidy but many times they don't. Math in real life is often messed up, the music discordant. This is as true of Christmas as it is of any other time in the year, maybe even more so because our expectations are often so high.
In 1995, my mom died on Dec. 17th from pancreatic cancer. It was not an easy home-going for her although the doctor told me if she had lingered, it would have been much worse. I thought I was prepared to see her go- had actually prayed that her soul would be able to escape her body before the pain outstripped the meds. But when it was clear she was about to leave, I became panicky, not wanting her to go.
At the time, my brother and I were trying to memorize the book of Philippians. WE had been working on it together for many months and the day before my mom suddenly went from bad to worse, I sat in her room meditating on Philippians 4:1-10. It was a time when I felt like I could almost reach out and feel the presence of God. While Mom slept, I sat there with my Bible open on my lap, acutely aware of the nearness of another world, a better world.
At that time, I had no clue that mom would pass away two days later and that it would be twelve solid months before I could even look at the book of Philippians again. Apparently, my brain associated her months of suffering with the letter to the Philippians and although I was close to memorizing the whole book, I never went back and completed that project. (After a year, I could look at the book and enjoy the verses but I've never been able to re-memorize it).
I believe the time spent in Philippians helped prepare me as much as anything could for the roller coaster ride that was ahead of me, so I definitely don't feel like it was time wasted. But the truth is that nothing can adequately prepare you for grief - it's just a rough road that has to be walked as best you can. And for me, there were times when all I could do was crawl along that road.
ON the Sunday that mom died, we had prepared David as best we could for it and I still remember Phil sitting with David on the library steps and in a very tender voice saying, "David, today is a special day because Nana got to go be with Jesus." David took it very well. He was just barely five at the time.
But in my journal from that time, I wrote that right after Phil talked to him, I said, "Guess who called to check on you?" David replied, "Was it Nana?" I looked at him and barely managed to say, "No..." Then he asked if it was Grandpa and so I said no again; at that point, I knew I had to end this guessing game before I lost it so I told him it was Mrs. Susie from his daycare.
Clearly he didn't understand what death was about.
At the time, I wasn't sure that I did either.
My mom had left instructions for her ashes to be buried in a little country cemetery where her parents were interred. So after the funeral, when the sun was going down and the wind was bitterly cold, about 5 or 6 of us drove an hour away to that cemetery and buried her ashes there with a short prayer. It was pretty bleak. On the way back, my husband was desperate to cheer me up so he suggested we stop at the mall, something he knew I normally liked (and something he hated.) At some level, I knew he was working hard to help me so I agreed but I remember standing in the middle of the mall, wondering why I was there, thinking that the stores held nothing I wanted or could ever possibly want. To please him I wandered into one store and again, just stood there aimlessly letting life flow around me while I remained separate from it all.
Then, over the piped-in music, I heard a familiar voice, a voice I had heard repeatedly over the years. At first, I couldn't take it in. Then it dawned on me that I was actually hearing the voice of my former Sunday School teacher, Danny Thomason. He had an eye clinic and he had put out quite a bit of money to make a Christmas commercial. In the commercial, he never once mentioned his business but just shared a Christmas memory from his childhood.
In this particular commercial, he recalled a woman in his neighborhood who used to crank up the record player as loud as she could and throw open her windows on Christmas Eve so that everyone could hear her Christmas carols (whether they wanted to or not:) He ended the radio spot by saying that he had no doubt she had her windows flung wide open in Heaven and had her Christmas carols playing as loud as ever!!!
As I listened to that familiar voice I knew that this was no coincidence. The commercial aired frequently but I never listened to the radio so I had never heard it. We were only in the mall for a short time and as far as I know, no other stores were playing that same station. At least I didn't hear it anywhere else as we walked around.
Deep inside, I knew that God had led me to that store at that precise moment so that He could reach out to me. The part of me that was numbed by grief began to slowly come alive again. I can't say that was always a good thing because the numbness gave way to the ability to feel and that included the ability to feel pain. But for the first time since my Mom had died, my thoughts were focused on Heaven and somehow I knew that if Danny's childhood neighbor was playing her records loud and clear up there, then my mom would be right there with her, listening!
Grief is just a tough road to walk and especially so at Christmas time.
Praying for those who are having to walk this road this season for the first time, for those who are trying to add 2 + 2 and coming up with 5 - may God be with them and help them as He has helped us. Thankful that Heaven is ahead and Jesus has promised that He will never leave us.