This is a hard Christmas for me. Really hard. Though my book has newly been released and I couldn’t be more grateful for the healing that is taking place in broken hearts because of it, my heart hurts... real bad.
This year I lost three souls whom I loved so dearly and another whom I was just getting to know, but already had love for. This year both of my grandfathers went home to be with the Lord, as well as my beloved chihuahua Stuart Wilson, after losing his 7 year battle with a terminal illness.
Both of my grandfathers will forever leave a legacy. Howard Shoemaker was an extraordinary, nationally recognized cartoon artist and Joseph Campagna was a 17th Infantry Paratrooper and World War ll veteran. Just the history those two incredible men leave behind is so important and fascinating. My life has been shaped and impacted in countless ways because of those whom I am forever blessed to call my grandfathers.
This is the first year I did not send them a Christmas card signed with XO XO XO. This is the first year I did not make them a home made gift. This is the first year I will not give them a hug and kiss. This is the first year I will not see their smiles. This is the first year I will not tell them I love them.
On November 7th, I lost my very best friend, Stuart. Stuart was my first dog whom I had begged for since I was a little girl. It was not until just before my 21st birthday that my dreams finally came true and I was blessed with the most loyal, loving, hilarious, stubborn friend I could have ever dreamed of. The last 13 years of my life have been so much better because of my Stuart. His unconditional love and comfort through the loss of our four precious babies, will forever be engraved in my heart. I cannot explain how much I miss him. Oh, how my heart aches.
This is the first year his stocking will be empty. This is the first year he will not wear his Santa outfit. This is the first year I will not take dozens of photos of him diving into his gifts. This is the first year, we will be traveling with one less. This is the first year I will not kiss him over and over again, while dancing and singing to Christmas carols.
Several days after Stuart passed away, we got another puppy. Though we knew it would not take away our pain, we believed a new puppy would bring joy in the midst of our grief. Two days after bringing home our new pup, Fuller, he became suddenly ill. After taking him to the vet, I was told, “Do not expect him to live.”
Fuller passed away three days later. Our “joy” in the midst of our grief had been taken and my family and I were left with nothing but tears and sadness.
After the loss of Fuller (our 4th loss in one year), all those familiar heartbreaking feelings associated with the loss of our children came back... I know from experiencing loss in the past, the first year is always the most difficult. And though it would be easier to just push my emotions down and hurry to get through this first year without them, I know healing will not happen if I do not allow myself to feel.
If there is one thing I have learned from the loss of our four babies, it is that, it is so important to “go through” the grief. It is necessary in order to begin to heal. Going through grief means allowing yourself to “feel” when and how you feel. Grief is a complicated journey. There is no right or wrong way. There is no clear beginning, middle, or end. There will be tears. There will be laughter.
Last spring I attended a grief class at a local church, where we watched videos, journaled, and shared our stories. One of the journals we were asked to write was a letter to a friend to help them prepare for grief.
While going through so much fresh grief right now, I decided to find that journal and reread it. Immediately, I was reminded, everything I am feeling this Christmas is normal. Everything I am feeling is okay. Everything I am feeling is will eventually get easier.
I want to share this letter with you as we embark on this journey of grief together.
My dear friend,
As I begin this letter to try and help you prepare or learn what to expect from coming grief, me heart begins to quickly fill with sorrow. I have deep empathy for you knowing the road ahead is a long, long road with many bumps, potholes, and sometimes dead ends.
There is no way to physically, mentally, emotionally, or even spiritually prepare for what is to come. Grief is different for everyone and comes like a thief at different times, with no warning. It is painful, lonely, dark, and can seem unending. It will be difficult for you to express your emotions, because you will have so many.
You may also begin to see others differently than you once did before, becoming more sensitive to their comments and advise, or lack there of. No one will truly know and understand your deep pain and questions, except Jesus. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. James 4:8
Only Jesus can give you the perfect, love, comfort, and understanding you will need to keep going. It is His strength alone that will pick you up. Eventually after time passes, you will see light again. Though it may never be as bright as it once was before, you will see it. Reach for the light. Hold onto it and don’t let go. That light will help you begin to live your new kind of life. Your life without the one(s) you loved so dearly.
Jesus knows your pain. Jesus understands your pain. Jesus sees your pain. It is okay to be honest with Him. It is okay to feel mad, sad, confused, and or hopeless around Him. He will meet you where you are.
Finally, it is okay to accept your new life. It is okay to live again. Living and experiencing joy does not mean you are “over” it, or forgot, or do not still love them. Instead it means you have learned to continue living and being all God designed you to be, even though they now live in your heart.
I cannot say the pain will ever fully go away, or memories and flashbacks will not happen. I cannot say you won’t randomly cry in a public place, or long for them. I cannot say the questions will go away... I can say, you will one day breathe again without so much deep, dark pain, I can say you will find new joys. Hold onto your new joys and embrace them, no matter how small they may be. They are from God and He loves you so very much.
His desire is not for us to be broken, depressed and anguished. Though we nay never understand why He allows us to go through agony and pain, know He will meet us, guide us, and help us through. His plans are so much greater and bigger than ours. We cannot see His big picture, but we can trust Him to get us through. Look for the beauty in the ugly. I promise it is there.
Your friend in Christ,
Though Christmas does doesn’t feel quite right this year, I have decided to be okay with that. While trying so hard to feel all the feels and keep all the traditions for my children and husband... I cannot help but feel sad amongst it all. My heart feels less full this year, and that is okay. My heart is less full right now, but I know I will be okay and I know God will fill my emptiness in His perfect time.
My husband said it best last night while I was crying, as thoughts of my beloved Stuart consumed my mind. I explained to him that I didn’t know how to handle Christmas this year. His response was so simple, yet so comforting. He said, “It is okay to be sad and happy this Christmas.” He is right. So this Christmas, as I prepare to celebrate for the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, I can embrace it, knowing I am happy and I am sad.... And that will never change how much my family and Jesus loves me.
Merry Christmas friends. My prayer for you this season, is that you too may allow yourself to feel and to keep looking for the light, even if you can only find a small speck right now. Hold onto that light and hold onto Jesus. It will get better. It will.