A Christmas Greeting from Altru’s Hospice Chaplain
I am Altru’s Hospice Chaplain so I work with terminally ill patients. But please don’t stop reading. I promise I won’t just depress you.
In my work and outside of work I hear folks talking about one person or another with a serious disease who might soon leave this earth. And caring folks will often say, “I hope Fred doesn’t die during Christmas. It will be so hard on the family. It will ruin Christmas for them.” I never know what exactly to say to that. What’s hard is not the season but the fact we are losing someone precious.
So this might surprise you. If I could choose when I leave this earth, I think I would pick Advent and the Christmas season. Why? I want to hear (and want my family to hear) about “Joy to the world” because the Lord has come. I would like to have someone sing “Silent Night” at my bedside (if there is time) because my leaving this earth is a “Holy Night” for my soul.
My family knows how I think about these things and, I believe, they would find time to remember how dad/grandpa enjoyed Christmas. And they would hear my voice in their minds saying, “Have fun with each other. Go ahead and be sad that we are apart, but have joy you are together!”
Do you feel sadness or grief during this year? Could you agree with what Elvis sang, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you”? I’ve come to think that our blue feelings are normal, nothing to be ashamed of and perhaps a better way to keep Christmas.
I was at several “Blue Christmas” events this year. Each time I thought what I could be doing instead – rushing here and there, buying stuff and worrying about whether my Christmas Cards were done. Instead I was gathered with a small group of people remembering and honoring our precious loved ones who have left this life for the next. We were worshipping the Christ of Christmas and asking for His help. We were reflecting on what is important to us: people, values and faith. Those are good things to do! We should take some satisfaction that we honored Christmas by doing them.
I know many people have had grief and losses well beyond measure and certainly beyond what I have experienced. Even the Christmas story tells us about that kind of pain. Can you imagine what it was like for Mary to be an unmarried pregnant teenager who knew she’d done nothing wrong? Or, think about the burden of everyone going to their own town to be counted so the king could better tax them.
And, after the wise men came to see the Christ and left without reporting back to Herod, do you remember what he did? Hoping to kill the Christ, he ordered every boy under two in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. The words of Matthew 2:18 echo for me, “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” Horrible. But even for these parents there can be some help, some comfort when they finally accept it.
This Christmas let’s not pretend we have no troubles or grief. If you feel “blue” don’t feel guilty about it or try to pretend you have the “Christmas spirit.” Be honest about the pain. But also remember the joy, the presence of people who love us and the Lord who came to earth for us and faced pain, hurt and hardship just for you and me. At Christmas, most of all times, joy and sorrow walk hand in hand.
Have a blessed season.