The first Saturday of each December, Lake City Church sponsors a community event called Ceremony of Remembrance. It’s a very special time when people gather to remember loved ones who have died. Ron and I attended for the first time this year.
One reason I wanted to go to the Ceremony was to hear the keynote speaker, Dr. Jerry Sittser. Several years ago, Jerry and his family were returning home, and a drunk driver, traveling at a high rate of speed, crossed the median and hit their family minivan head on. Jerry’s mother, wife and young daughter were killed instantly. He, along with three other children, survived. Dr. Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised, had a profound impact on me. It’s the most meaningful work on loss and grief I’ve read.
Christmas is a time that evokes many memories.
Most of my Christmas memories are pleasant. Memories from two different Christmases still sting, but for the most part I’ve reconciled the pain and have been able to tuck unpleasant thoughts away in my mind’s back closet.
Each December, I’m reminded of a Christmas I felt certain was destined to be unhappy, but instead, it has become one of my most cherished memories.
A month earlier, my divorce had been finalized, and all during December, a cloud of doom and gloom hung over me. December 24th, my mom and dad arrived to spend Christmas Eve with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and me in the tiny little house, located across the road from railroad tracks, I was renting at that time—all I could afford on my secretary salary and child support income.
Angie had no inkling all was not well in her little world. She adored her grandparents, and they adored her. She was delighted by the little Christmas tree, festooned with bright bulbs and lights, and ecstatic about all the “pwesents” under the tree. Her bubbly, bouncy personality brought so much joy and laughter. But, Angie went to bed before 8:00 p.m., which left several hours for me to deal with heartbreaking memories and the foreboding of a fearful future.
Christmas Eve didn’t keep Mom from going to bed at her usual early hour. Afterward, Dad and I hunkered down to watch TV. As nighttime deepened, we could see through the window snow was falling.
Midnight was nearing when Dad asked if I’d like to go for a walk. We donned coats, hats, gloves, boots and scarves, and left the house, prepared to walk into Christmas morn. The night was perfect—much like a scene concluding one of the Hallmark Christmas movies. Not even a slight breeze disturbed the silent night. Huge wet snowflakes fell softly from an inky sky. Beams of light from the moon and streetlamps sparkled on freshly fallen snow.
There was something so special about that brand-new blanket of snow. For a brief time, it insulated me from the interior noise that had clanged in my soul for many months. The snow’s unmarred freshness spoke to my spirit about a clean slate, the promise of new beginning.
I had not yet read Dr. Sittser’s book the night of that walk, but when I read these words from A Grace Disguised, it reminded me of my period of personal loss. “However difficult…I had to learn how to build a new life for myself and my family. My new circumstances were a given; my response was not. The tragedy became the catalyst for creative action.”
Dad and I didn’t speak during the walk. Our only communication was the unspoken camaraderie between a father and his child. Looking back on that event, I think I sensed that I could trust my dad would be there for me, and I believe on some spiritual level, I knew my earthly father’s trustworthiness was a reflection of that of my Heavenly Father.
After Dr. Sittser’s talk, the names of those being remembered were read aloud. Loved ones walked to the front of the sanctuary to place an ornament representing departed grandparents, parents, children and friends on a Christmas tree. Along with 300 others, Ron and I hung our ornaments. Ron’s were in memory of his mom, dad and older brother, who passed away in February. My two ornaments honored a dear friend and my dad.
I’d highlighted many passages in A Grace Disguised. One said, “I want to honor the dead who have gone before me and bless the living who will come after me. Whether and to what extent I succeed will depend on the choices I made and the grace I receive.”
At the Ceremony of Remembrance—and in the words of this blog post—I honor my earthly father who has gone before me. The grace I received during the walk Dad and I took that long ago Christmas Eve helped me walk into a season of healing and enabled me to bless those living who were to come after me.
Dear God, This day, I thank you for the gift of lovely remembrance. Thank you for the grace you give, enabling and empowering us to walk beyond painful loss.
May your memories—no matter how sad—be sweetened with God’s grace this Christmas season….