All of these deaths came in pretty sudden- even with my father in law of 81 plus years, it came unexpectedly. The others were relatively young: 42 years and 52 years respectively. I am still yet to recover from both deaths and sometimes I feel it is just a bad dream that will soon pass. They both had growing families, children to raise, a husband to love and care for, and a wife to cherish. It’s been a year of painful shock, sadness, unanswered questions and finally, learning to let go and put it in God’s hands that he knows best even when life deals in us in ways that leaves us bewildered and dazed.
This Christmas has been particularly hard because of the loss of these loved ones. There was something about them that made Christmas special. I inherited a tradition from my Mother in Law to set up the Christmas tree after my brother in law’s birthday, which was on the 9th of December. The day after his birthday signified the beginning of Christmas season for me. So, having his birthday come this year with no one to call was a particularly sad day. It dampened my anticipation for the season. It was also always a time of bonding with a few people from my church family, particularly my late friend. We would sometimes stay till way past midnight, as families, talking, sharing, laughing, and on a few occasions crying together.
On Christmas Eve I felt particularly sad, for myself, my husband and the loved ones that these precious people left behind. It was almost too painful to put up Christmas decorations or anything in the house as I kept on wondering how the loved ones they left behind were feeling at this point.
Holiday seasons, particularly Christmas, is a time for family. A time for bonding, for getting together and for renewing and strengthening family ties. For those that have experienced the death of a loved one the impact of their loss seems to be heightened. I know for sure because that is how I feel. Anyone that has lost a loved one, no matter how young or old can relate.
What can we take from this season?
Death is painful, and the pain must be expressed. I remember when my father died when I was seven. Both my parents come from large families, so we had a lot of relatives staying with us after his death. I was told by my aunties that my father had travelled, meanwhile even in my young mind, I knew that he had died. I was never allowed to talk about his death and was told by my aunties that ‘as the first born’ I had to be happy and strong all the time, when I tried to express it, I was chastised. While it was not expressed because of the circumstances I was in, the grief kept itself in my subconscious, driving me to have exaggerated reactions to simple things, and a constant lingering fear of death before I turned 40. I did not know how much my un-expressed grief impacted my life. Fast-forward about 30 years later to a Father’s Day service at my church in Abuja. It was time to sing hymns and out of nowhere, the grief of my father’s death came to me as if he just died. I cried my heart out for the whole Sunday, asking my Dad questions on why he died and left us all at a very young age, and other questions I had always been asking but was not allowed to express. It triggered the closure I assumed I had, which my heart always wanted. I was able to now accept in my mind that my father is dead, had a better understanding of why we did some things we did. Shortly after that my husband and I went to his grave site to say goodbye and gradually find closure. Today my husband and I gladly support a foundation in his memory, which I know would have made him proud.
Sometimes we try to be strong, we try to pretend that life is normal, but the pain of losing a loved one is real: and it needs to be expressed particularly among children and young people. They will still cry, they ask questions, they will want to talk. It’s their own way of accepting the situation, healing and letting go. Some may become unusually quiet while others may become naughty or unduly aggressive: it is just the different stages of grief being expressed (Please refer to my earlier post on when a loved one dies) Having those conversations may be uncomfortable, and some of us may not know how to handle it, particularly the men, but please don’t try to pretend as if it’s not there, it is the elephant in the room. And when you’re asked questions you don’t have answers to, like ‘why did mommy die’? or why did my daddy die? Be honest and tell them mommy was sick, or daddy was sick. It is ok to let them you that you do not know all the answers, more important to let them know that you understand their pain because you feel it too, and that you trust God that He is faithful to heal.
God is God enough to heal: After going through several personal tragedies myself, I must say that things will never be the same. It will be a new normal. A new normal does not mean a bad normal. Our loved ones will no longer be with us, there is nothing we can do about that. God also feels our pain, that I can assure you, and He will heal the pain and the fill void and the emptiness that the loss has bought. He is El- Shaddai. He is more than enough. Trust the power of the Holy Spirit to take you through those dark days, and to answer the questions in your heart, and sometimes take you through some dark valleys of regret and guilt; you have to allow Him to take you through them so that you can come out healed.
The birth of Christ signifies hope: I believe that the birth of Jesus that we celebrate is more for the people who have lost loved ones than for anybody else. The birth of the Christ signifies that life will always conquer death. We do not just celebrate his birth; we celebrate the reason behind his birth: Hope. The birth of the Christ signifies redemption, hope, and that no matter the loss, there will be life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every Christmas, no matter how painful the loss, is a message from the Christ that because He lives, our loved ones live also. While we may remember their death every day, Christmas and Easter, two significant days for the Christian, signifies that because of Christ, though we weep we have hope. We have peace and we have joy.
Hold on to the hope that his birth has bought. Receive the joy that His birth has given. Amid the pain, choose joy. Peace.