By Dennis R. Tate, Community Hospice, Chaplain
Ever since an angel announced good news to shepherds working the night shift, Christians have associated the birth of Jesus with joy. But some people who have experienced significant loss in the recent past find a season of celebration observed against a soundtrack of “Joy to the World” a bit hard to handle. The holiday season is a difficult time for folks dealing with grief over the loss of their loved ones. Someone once stated to me, “I just wish that I could go to sleep the day before Thanksgiving and wake up on January 2!” Over the years, I have shared that statement with countless people who have come to me for help with their grief. Without exception, they all have agreed it describes their feelings and emotions so well. The holidays are without a doubt the most difficult time for the person who is grieving over the loss of a loved one. The way that grief is dealt with is as unique as the individuals who deal with grief during the holidays.
As a pastor, I was confronted with the reality of the pain that my members experienced through the loss of loved ones during the course of the year and who came to me for help. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss this problem with veteran pastor Dr. O. S. Hawkins on how best to assist my grieving people. Dr. Hawkins shared with me a poem that he sent with a personal letter at Christmas to the families who had lost loved ones over the past year. This served a double purpose in giving the bereaved the special attention that they needed as well as provided a pointed perspective to assist with the holiday season. The impact of this poem was realized over the years as Dr. Hawkins would conduct the funerals of these “survivors” and would find a copy of the poem in their Bible.
After that visit, I incorporated that practice into my own ministry and found that it had a calming and healing effect upon my own parishioners. The holidays are about family and friends. Yet, when they are missing, it leaves a fearful gaping hole in our world that destroys the wonder and warmth of the holidays for us. Faith is a vital ingredient in handling and working through our grief during the holidays. Being able to look through the lens of faith during the holiday season helps to heal the wound in our heart and gives strength and courage for the days ahead.
In a season of lights, people experiencing the darkness of loss feel out of place. Rev. Buckner Fannin, once stated, “Why do you suppose Jesus was born at night? Why was Jesus born to starlight instead of to sunlight? …Because it is the darkness that frightens us…and Jesus came to dispel our darkness.” We must realize that our Christian loved ones who have died live in the eternal light, and God’s light abides even in life’s darkest times!
Christmas is a reminder to us that we are not alone in our journey through life. Here is the poem that I have shared with so many during the holiday season. May it provide you with a view of Christmas from the perspective of your loved one who may be spending their first Christmas in Heaven.
If you or a loved one is facing a serious or life-limiting illness, the time to find out more about hospice and palliative care is right now. For more information about our services or volunteer opportunities please call Community Hospice at 606-329-1890 or 1-800-926-6184.
I’ve had my first Christmas in Heaven:
A glorious, wonderful day!
I stood with saints of the ages,
Who found Christ the Truth and the Way.
I sang with the Heavenly choir:
Just think! I, who longed so to sing!
And oh, what celestial music
We brought to our Saviour and King!
We sang the glad songs of redemption.
How Jesus to Bethlehem came,
And how they called His Name Jesus,
That all might be saved through His Name.
We sang once again with the angels,
The song that they sang that blest morn,
When shepherds first heard the glad story
That Jesus, the Saviour, was born.
O, how I wish you had been there:
No Christmas on earth could compare
With all the rapture and glory
We witnessed in Heaven so fair.
You know how I always loved Christmas:
It seemed such a wonderful day.
With all of my loved ones around me:
The children so happy and gay.
Yes, now I can see why I loved it:
And oh, what joy it will be
When you and my loved ones are with me,
To share in the glories I see.
So Dear Ones on earth, here’s my greeting:
Look up till the day dawn appears,
And oh, what a Christmas awaits us,
Beyond all our partings and tears!
– Dr. Albert Simpson Reitz