Carmen Lappe reflects on celebrating Christmas in a time of grief, recalling how comfort and peace can be found in our newborn Savior and the Eucharist.
How was your Advent? Did you manage to keep the candles on your Advent wreath current? Were Sundays spent reading Scripture and reflecting on the weekly themes while your children sat quietly, eager to learn the true meaning of Advent and Christmas? Did you remember to fill the kids' shoes with candy canes or other treats to celebrate St. Nicholas on December 6?
No? Me either. Yes? Tell me your secret.
This Advent was unlike any other as my family prepared to celebrate our first Christmas without my beloved father. If not filled with anxiety about holiday celebrations, Mass plans, and gift-buying checklists, I found myself caught up in the grief of knowing my father will not be with us at Mass on Christmas Eve or at our family Christmas celebrations. Typically we’d toast the holiday with a Busch Light and share a can of mixed nuts as we watch the youngest members of the family unwrap their gifts. It is heavy to know dad won’t be in his usual place on the couch to see their faces light up.
Not physically, anyway. Though not with us in the flesh, indeed, we are closer to our loved ones now than during their earthly lives. As with all the dearly departed, we fervently hope and pray they are resting in the peace of Christ, rejoicing in the presence of God. And as Catholics, we believe that when the Lord comes to us in the Eucharist we are closer to these saints (named and unnamed) every time we receive this foretaste of heavenly unity.
I wish I could say that this theology of our faith and reception of the Eucharist has brought the consolation I’ve desperately needed as I’ve navigated a world without my dad. Some days it does; other days the void is felt more keenly than ever before and the loss is achingly fresh. I believe in the Church’s teaching, so why don’t I feel it?
Though I’ve tried to cultivate a warm, hospitable home in my heart for the Christ Child this Christmas, I’m afraid he’s entering into more of a cold, dark cell lit only by a single candle in danger of being extinguished. My soul feels like the unfamiliar, dirty stable in which Jesus was born on this night over 2,000 years ago.
But … that cold, dirty stable still did the job. Jesus was still born. He still bent low to be among us. Glory to God in the highest!
This knowledge is precisely where the Lord comes to meet me. He fills me with His consolation when I’m scheduled to cantor at a Mass that’s being offered for my father. He tears down the walls of grief when I hear my daughter singing my favorite hymn and the one I have sung to her and her brother from the time they were infants. He lights up the shadows of darkness through the support of wonderful friends who stop by to see me when I’m struggling the most.
In a year that’s been filled with challenges, God’s grace abounds all the more as He’s inspired me to three practices to help keep me grounded. Perhaps they can be helpful for you, too if you’re facing loss this Christmas season.
Lean into it.
Let your tears be a prayer, especially if it's the only one you can muster. Acknowledge the tender, Holy, and unprecedented ground on which you walk. It's ok not to be ok.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Sometimes I find a simple, prolonged gaze on the crucifix or the portraits of saints on our "saint wall" helps me to recenter and reorient my priorities. Maybe all the gifts aren't purchased. Maybe you ran out of time to prepare your favorite green bean casserole and now the stores are closed. It is okay. If the season has you overwhelmed, recognize you're doing the best you can and no one else is walking the same path you are.
Frequent the sacraments.
If grief has you feeling numb, go to the One – the only One – who truly understands your heart. Let Him love you completely and unconditionally in the Eucharist. Just as God bent low on Christmas Eve to dwell among us, let Him dwell in you as you navigate this season. Allow His light and love to transform your weary heart.
If you’re struggling with grief this Christmas season, I pray these words on a necklace gifted to me by my best friend on December 7 – Dad’s first heavenly birthday – bring you comfort: “The loss is immeasurable, but so is the love left behind.”
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I pray the Light of the World dwells richly within you. Christmas blessings!
Copyright 2021 Carmen Lappe
Images: (top) Canva Pro; candle, Canva Pro; all others copyright 2021 Carmen Lappe, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Carmen is a wife and mother of two in midwestern Iowa. She has a Master of Arts degree in Sacred Theology and has a special passion for writing about the grace of motherhood. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and exploring breweries and baseball stadiums across the country.