…I didn't think decorating would be a problem. But as I approached the attic I started to cry. With each box I moved to “get to” the decorations, I cried harder. I found one of the boys' Star Wars men and I cried. And then I found the decorations. On top was Mark's stocking. When I saw it, I laid my head down on the box and sobbed. Lord, why?

Journal Entry, December 22. Chuck told me we don't need to do this - decorate. But I said, “Yes we do. I want to recognize Christmas. We dishonor our son if we don't recognize his Savior's birth. We have to lean into the pain.” Chuck pulled me down beside him on the sofa and said, “Then just sit here and cry for a while; don't try to hold it in.” Finally, as he and young Chuck got the tree ready, I sorted through the decorations. I put most of them back. The stockings won't go up this year. Daniel put decorations on the tree with a smile, even when he found Mark's picture. This is all surreal. But we're getting through.

Safe Place of Comfort

Journal Entry, December 23. We're following the advice of those who have walked this pathway before us, and we're changing our traditions. When friends realized I did not have the energy or desire to prepare a Christmas Eve buffet, they asked if they could prepare and serve all the food so that we could still gather together on such an important night. I am looking forward to being with [the larger group] tomorrow evening, but a dinner tonight will be my private gift to my family. Lord, in answer to my plea to help me experience the joy of Christmas Your way, You opened my eyes to treasures I can give to each one of my precious children and husband - the pictures, the story our friend wrote, the birthday letter Mark wrote to Chuck. You are leading me to use some traditions to create a safe place of comfort and to freely let go of other traditions without fear. Today I wept as I prepared all of Mark's favorite foods, but smiled through tears as I remembered him coming in the back door, stretching his long arms to hang on the entry to the kitchen, and grinning with anticipation of eating hot Syrian bread, dripping with butter. I wished I could see him digging into the stuffed grape leaves one more time. Then I chose to imagine Mark at the banquet table in heaven with You. So, Lord, I'm preparing a special Christmas dinner with all of Mark's favorite foods, and we'll think of him enjoying the bounty of Your grace while we enjoy the bounty of our Christmas table.

We had read that the anticipation of a holiday, anniversary, or birthday was often worse than the actual event; so one purpose of our family dinner was to create new traditions before Christmas day, hoping to ease in to the pain of Christmas.

Journal Entry, December 24. Well, Lord, here I am. Christmas Eve. Running until I drop. Trying not to think. But I feel this might be the most important Christmas of my life. Mark's first Christmas in heaven. Our first Christmas without our child.

The Treasure of Holiday Presence

[Jesus said,] I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:29

No matter what your loss, choose to lean into the pain of Christmas and ask God to open your heart and mind to the presents that glow in the darkness of sorrow. And you may learn that the best present of all is the promise of His presence.

Dr. Chuck Betters is the pastor/teacher of MARK INC Ministries. His messages can be heard on www.oneplace.com. Visit www.markinc.com where you can order the message he preached the first Christmas after his son's death, Christmas Pain, #93-101. You can also order the book, Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2005.

Sharon W. Betters, Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 2005) 178, 181 - 186.