Here I am, the day after Christmas 2014. And I'm only writing this because a lot of people were praying for me yesterday, that I might get through this holiday.
Grief is hard enough already. It's especially heartbreaking when it comes so close to the holiday season and you see that empty chair at the table. It's not something that I haven't experienced already. Mom passed away three days after Christmas three years ago, and because of that there was already a shadow cast over Christmas and New Year's. On my 26th birthday we buried my grandmother: something that I'm always reminded of on that day of the year.
This year has been more excruciating than anything I was prepared for. Because it's so fresh. Because it's only now sinking in that Dad is gone and is not coming back, no matter how many times I keep expecting him to come through that door every morning, or whenever I see his truck parked at home and find myself thinking that he's inside playing with our dog.
For the several days and maybe a week and a half before Christmas, I was doing pretty well. Our theatre guild was in the midst of its production of It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical and being around so many people - people who I have worked with before and people who I only now have had the pleasure of making friendships with - was a pick-me-up that I sorely needed more than I'd realized. And then the show ended this past Sunday and just like that the joy began leaving me.
Let me be more succinct: I knew what was coming and I did not want to have to go through it. But Christmas was coming, and I had to bear it. I'm not the only one going through this either: two very dear friends and their family are also going through this holiday season without their mother, a wonderful woman who passed away a month before Dad did.
Tuesday was hell. Christmas Eve I was assaulted with a lot of thoughts that I cried to God to please take away. Thoughts about Dad. Thoughts about being alone, not in the "no friendships" way. It has been my dream to be a husband and a father for so very long and only now have I been able to reach a state of mind that could let me have that... but I've missed a decade and a half of life because of mental illness and having that happiness seems further away than ever.
It has been a hard thing to be without Dad in other ways too, because he really was supporting me as I wrote my book. I lost a lot of dependable work this past spring because of an extended bout of severe depression - enough to keep me from writing a word for a major project - and I've been struggling ever since to make up for it. For now, let's just say that I'm scraping by. But in a very weird way, I'm thankful for where I am at the moment. It has re-taught me about the things that do matter most in life. I am realizing more than before that for all of my circumstance right now, that I am better off than a lot of people who suffer from mental illness. I may not be where I want to be, but God is providing for me and I'm not having to go hungry. It is teaching me to rely on God more than I ever have before, and I am thankful for that.
I had no idea that poverty could be so much fun!
(Okay, forget I said that. It's NOT exactly "poverty". A tremendous lack of previous resources perhaps, yes... but I'm eating and get to stay warm at night and have a roof over my head: something that too many people in this world can't get to say that they have.)
All of those regrets and more came upon me on Christmas Eve and I desperately wanted to flee them. I took my medication early that night and tried to go to sleep. It only lasted until 1 in the morning, at which point I took MORE medication and tried to let it work. By 8 it was clear that nothing had worked. Only breakfast at my aunt and uncle's place at 9 brought direly-welcomed respite from the sadness and despair. I got to have a little Christmas after all. In fact, it was a Christmas that will go down as one of the most memorable of my life.
Then I came home and took even more medicine and crawled into bed and curled up in the fetal position and waited for the day to end.
I don't know what made me wake up at 4 in the afternoon. Maybe it was Tammy - my dog - scratching at the door to go out for "relief". I took her out and when I came back the urge to talk to someone... to anyone... overwhelmed me.
I went on Facebook and asked people to please hold me up in prayer right then, because I was needing it. And then I spent the next three and a half hours on the phone talking to some especially close friends.
And after that, I came away feeling the most uplifted, encouraged and spiritually renewed than I have been since well before Dad died.
One friend, someone who is as close to me as a sister, told me something that I hadn't thought of: that Dad and Mom were having their first Christmas together in three years. And that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and that now Mom and Dad get to celebrate Christmas in the presence of Christ Himself. She also told me something else: that Heaven really is closer to us than we realize. We just can't see it with eyes on this earthly shore. But our loved ones are there, they really are. Which is funny, because a second friend shared that same thought with me just as many weeks ago.
During a conversation with another friend, he shared an essay with me, about grief during Christmas time, and a reminder that though we may grief, our grief is not that of this world. Still another friend reminded me that I am unbelievably blessed with friends and family... and friends who are close as any family can be. As Clarence Oddbody told George Bailey: a person with friends is far richer than anything that money can provide on this earth.
That's something too. I had found myself asking God to please show me that my life did have purpose and meaning, that despite how things have gone that I might have a wonderful life. I had secretly hoped for some direct message from Him. In the end God didn't send a "second class angel" at all. He sent people who are so very dear and precious to my heart, and in their own way they each helped to convey the precisely right message that I needed to hear.
Yesterday evening I ended up feeling joy and contentment and peace that I had not thought possible. I felt cheered-up enough to spent the rest of the night comforted by the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding.
I even felt cheered-up enough to do something that earlier in the day I did not have any interest in at all: watching this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. I'm glad that I did. "Last Christmas" was like John Carpenter's The Thing meets Inception meets Miracle on 34th Street with a little dash of Alien. Solid entertainment courtesy of the Doctor Who franchise. I needed that too.
I let the rest of the night go on as I let the feeling of Christmas joy wash over me, and linger past midnight. Then I went to bed, but not before thanking God for bringing me through the grief and letting me have joy on this holiday: joy that I hadn't ever expected and will remember for the rest of my life.
Let me put it this way: this Christmas was a Christmas of miracles for me. I couldn't have gotten through it without the prayers of a lot of amazing people. And I could not have come through it without God providing friendships and family who lifted me up exactly as I needed for them to do. There have been a lot of instances this past month and more that I have seen timing happen in ways that can only be described as perfect. Some of those involved loss. This time, it was timing that led to me gaining something. Something that aroused a greater faith in God than I had been prepared for. That it came just in time for Christmas was the proverbial cherry on top.
Dad would want me to have been happy this holiday, even without his presence at the breakfast table yesterday morning. He would want me to go on with my life, and to be happy and to keep finding happiness. My friends encouraged me to know that there is still plenty of time to have the happiness that I have dreamed of having for so long... and I believe them. One of these years, in the not too distant future, I hope that will be me sharing photos on Facebook of my children having Christmas morning. I long to see Christmas through their eyes, just as Dad saw it through those of my sister and I.
This, was a far better Christmas than I was ready to be blessed with. I don't think that would have been possible without some of the despair and depression that I went through on the way to it. Maybe that is God's timing too: that I might have a lot of sadness before I could appreciate the joy.
I like to believe so.
This was one of the best Christmases that I've ever had. I don't know how those in years to come will compare, but this Christmas is forever going to be part of me that I will take with me always.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go. There is a handsomely-endowed gift card for Barnes & Noble in my possession that is screaming to be put to good use this afternoon :-)
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