It seems so strange to write about death with Christmas only three days away. After all, isn’t Christmas about the life and birth of a newborn King? Isn’t Christmas about a young woman who said, “Yes” to bringing this Little One into the world? How can a person write about death during, what is considered to be by many, the most joyful holiday season of the year?
Yesterday, I went shopping with my husband. It was the first time this month we have been able to do any Christmas shopping for our children. We stopped at two different stores looking for small Christmas trees we could plant at Maggie’s grave. As I left the first store I dissolved into tears. Oh, it feels so wrong not to be shopping for gifts and stocking stuffers but instead decorations for a tomb. How did my world come to this? As we left the store “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher was on the radio. This is the song Maggie would sing as her body died over those two weeks. Every time she had a headache she would sing the chorus and say, “It makes my head not hurt as much, mom.” As I cried and listened to the lyrics I said, “She is yours. I release her to You.” I realized that even though I have already released her to God I must continue to say this so that I can remember. I weep as I write this just thinking about all of the things we are missing together as a family. Of all the things I miss the most, I miss being in her presence. I miss her being in the midst of all of the fun and chaos of the Christmas season. I miss watching her open gifts. I miss her laughter. And no matter how much and how hard I miss her I cannot bring myself to wish her back. Because I know that Christmas in that distant land is so much more incredible than it ever could be here. How could I ask for her to be back in this world where she would just have to die again? I mourn. I grieve. I suffer. And I am so happy for my girl. So, I celebrate Christmas. I decorate the tree. I make hot chocolate for my living children. We bake and decorate sugar cookies together. I work hard to create memories and to generate excitement about this wonderful season. I do so because I know that to live in the shadow of grief and sadness does a disservice to myself, to my husband, to my living children, to my saint in Heaven, and to the mission before me. I choose to live in joy to the very best of my ability given my circumstance. (Please note that my choice to celebrate Christmas and choosing to live in joy in no way negates the suffering. The suffering will always exist. It is also important to note that not everyone is able to approach Christmas in this manner and that is ok.)
I think about death constantly now that my daughter has gone on before me. When your child dies your whole world is turned upside down and the reality that death is coming for every single person in this world, no matter their age, rank, financial portfolio, religion. Truly, death should be, at least, in the back of our minds all the time but it generally isn’t. We are caught up in the cares and worries of this world and we forget that we are pilgrims passing through. We forget that this is not our home. We forget that we are to be on mission. We forget that Christmas is the most joyful holiday season because our Savior was born so that He might die and conquer the grave once and for all. Christmas is wrapped in the shroud of death and the glory of the resurrection. His mother knew as she held this little babe in her arms that He would face the most unimaginable sufferings. She knew that a sword would pierce her heart (this is such an understated way to describe what a mother’s heart goes through when her child dies). She knew He would be taken from her arms. And yet, she said, “Yes.”
Last night I was watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King with my husband and oldest daughter. One of the most powerful scenes for me is when Gandalf and Pippin are facing certain death and they have this short, yet powerful, discussion.
“PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.”
See, Gandalf knows what we must all remember. Death is coming for us. There is no stopping it. Oh, but that distant shore and that far green country with a swift sunrise are more then we could ever imagine. In the meantime, what will we do with the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years before us? Will we fight against evil? Will we truly love our families? Will we keep that distant land in our thoughts as we persevere? May we be granted the courage to keep death and resurrection in the front of our minds this Christmas season.