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Grief makes it hard to find joy during Christmas

My Marley girl

My Marley girl

Christmas is supposed to be perfect, joyous, celebratory. But I haven’t been feeling it the last few weeks. My tree is done and all my presents are wrapped. I have a few last-minute things to take care of but overall, I should be feeling relaxed and ready for some magic.

But instead, I am in a funk. Everything feels juxtaposed. On the outside, things look festive, but I feel sad on the inside. I miss my brother and his sweet family. They just live too far away to see very often. I miss my nephew Cole. I’m sad that he isn’t here to play with my kids and tell me jokes while we set the table for Christmas dinner. He should have been 16 last month. He should have gotten to be a lot of things. His death has fundamentally changed our family, the grief is what lives on.

On Monday, we said good-bye to our sweet old dog Marley. Two years ago, the vet told us he didn’t expect her to live much longer. But Marley sure fooled him. Several thousand dollars in laser therapy and medications kept her with us a little bit longer. The Hubs hoped we could hang on past the holidays, but we just couldn’t be that selfish. Marley couldn’t hear anymore, and last week she lost her vision. I found her lost in her own backyard. She was bumping into the fence and the trampoline trying to find her way to the back door. I knew I couldn’t make her go on like that anymore. But I was so very tempted. She looked like a big fluffy red panda and had the softest ears, like mink. I just keep crying, missing her footsteps and her not-so-soft snores. I asked Cole, who loved dogs, to find her and take care of her for us.

Bodacious is dancing and singing in her room, right now, Christmas carols of course. She is so excited and happy and that runs right at me. How can she be so happy when I feel so stinking blue? And I know I am not the only one. The holidays are hard for many people. Estrangement, poor heath, loss. They all isolate us during this most wonderful time of the year.

Last week at church, our pastor addressed it head on, saying he knew some of us did not feel joy this season. That feeling of being in the moment, focusing on all the good things while pushing aside the regrets of the past and the fears of the future. But he’s a tricky one, because he didn’t stop there. He added that he thought some of us had confused joy with feeling happy and excited.

He defined joy as a spiritual quality, a divine gift of God, which runs much deeper into our hearts and souls. Joy is more than feeling happy, it is a deep gratitude for what God has already done, the blessings we have already experienced and a powerful hope for blessings yet to come.

This is a year that I have to look for the joy, search it out. It’s already there, but sometimes, I have a tendency to not see the proverbial forest for the trees. Early this morning, I asked The Hubs to put the kids into bed with me. Nothing ever makes me feel more at peace than holding them does. The glow of the Christmas tree spilled into our room, just enough to see my sweet babies. They were all warm and soft, miniature versions of us. I held them until my arms went numb, despite a tiny heel to the shin and stolen covers. And then, well, I let myself wallow in those feelings of completeness, love without bounds, and that childlike sense of wonder I still feel about Christmas lights. Thank you God for flooding my heart with joy this morning, for giving me my greatest blessings to hold, and for the knowledge that I will see Cole and Marley again.

Merry Christmas, may you all find joy this season, blessings to count and friends to love.

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