By Donna M. Williams
The first Christmas without him was interesting, to say the least. Our house had been the party place for previous Christmases, lots of people, plenty of food, an abundance of gifts, and delighted squeals of laughter that always filled the house. My Christmas Eve cooking routine was to turn on “The Christmas Story” 24-hour television movie marathon and have my own cuisine marathon while I listened to the familiar voices of Ralphie (“Ohhhhh Fudge”), his father (“Fra-gee-lay”), his little brother Randy (“I can’t move my arms”) and his mother, whose “You’ll shoot your eye out” was the thematic thread that ran throughout the movie. By the time Christmas morning arose, I was beyond exhaustion, but with a happy delirium I dressed for church and looked forward to an afternoon of celebration with family, friends, and church members.
When the first Christmas arrived after the death of my husband, the plans of prior years faded away into oblivion and I was left with the unnerving question, “What do I do now?” The only family I had in my city was an aunt, my husband, and my daughters. His extended family was large and raucous. This introvert learned to love the numbers and the loudness. However, after my husband’s death, his immediate family (sister and mother) turned away, stressed by their own grief (I guess) that they no longer had any time for me. Their behavior had the effect of my severing ties with the extended family I had grown to love, because I did not want anyone to be made uncomfortable with my presence.
That first Christmas my daughters had the bright idea, “Let’s go to Vegas!”
Vegas? Really? Well, any old port in a storm I suppose, so off to Vegas I went with my daughters and grandchildren in tow. We checked in to a hotel off the Strip, the very same hotel my husband and I had visited right after it had been built years before. The girls found a Christmas tree for the grandchildren, set it up in the hotel room, and slipped gifts beneath it for everyone.
The restaurant we chose for Christmas dinner was chosen because it had been highlighted on one of the first MTV reality shows (my daughters’ suggestion). The place was fancy but the food was horrible. We later laughed about the fact that we stayed in a hotel that had the #1 rated buffet in Vegas, but we had crossed the highway for that awful fare.
I don’t remember much more about that trip, other than our “touring” the other casinos that seemed more like theme parks than gambling spots. We needed to get away that Christmas and Vegas provided all the distractions necessary to keep us from falling into a dark pit of sorrow and self-pity.
The Christmases since that “first” holiday have not returned to the glory of those years when my pastor/husband was alive. The meals have gotten smaller and so has the tree. My aunt, with whom I now live, has dementia. One daughter will not return from a tour in Japan until the day after Christmas and will probably not make it to Northern California at all. My married daughter will probably drop by for a moment, on her way to another gathering with husband and son. My husband’s sister is no closer than she was that first Christmas (my mother-in-law has since passed away), and the friends and former church members have either moved away or have created their own celebrations, post-Williams era.
I hear that the holidays are a time of great depression for many people, people alone and isolated who feel unloved and unwanted at a time of the year when it seems like everyone has someone and somewhere to go with that someone. Holiday music wafts endlessly through malls, tinsel seemingly is draped over everything, and everyone’s face is wreathed in broad smiles. To the individual whose days are filled with emptiness such jubilation only increases the pain of silence.
Many of us know people who suffer in silence with their distress during the holidays. Think back to the “What Would Jesus Do?” era, based on the book In His Steps by Charles Monroe Sheldon, in which a pastor challenges his congregation to ask themselves this question before they undertook any action. What would Jesus do with these broken hearts that cross our paths during this “Jesus is the Reason” season? Harking back to my marathon days, I know exactly what He would do; He would open His heart and His doors to those individuals without a thought to the cost or inconvenience or discomfort.
I may not be able to recreate the Christmases of my past, but I certainly can open up my heart and doors to help recreate a special memory for someone else. I remember those holiday dinners where the invited did not hesitate to also invite people to come with them, people who had nowhere else to go, even a stranger on shore leave whose heavy coat belied the weapon of a military policeman. Their largess at our expense did not cause us any concern; we were happy to welcome all because we did not want anyone to spend the holidays wrapped in depression.
These many years later, can I step out of my new normal to recreate a memory for those who are perhaps struggling with their own loss or need? Can I once again find joy in marathon cooking while “The Christmas Story” marathon plays in the background? I think I can, not for me, but for those people who will not know the joy of the Christ in Christmas until I choose to walk in His steps. The introvert in me wants to rebel at the notion of inviting strangers to the holiday table without my husband’s extrovert personality to run interference for me, but if I want to put Christ back into Christmas, I must “let this mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus.” I must humble myself in order to step outside of myself because someone needs to know that Jesus still cares and I guess, tag, I’m it.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Donna M. Williams
Contributing Writer, B.L.O.G. Magazine
A pastor’s wife of twenty years (now a pastor’s widow), Donna wants to encourage all women of faith to integrate Ephesians 4:1 into their everyday lives as well as to always remember that “A woman’s place is in the will of God.” Donna is the radio host of the weekly talk show “Issues After Dark: Ladies Night” (www.RMGradio.org), a show that takes a frank look at the challenges women face each day as well as the perks and pain of being the pastor’s wife. She maintains a blog, “Off the Air” (www.donnanotdiva.wordpress.com) and is also a contributor to the Religazine Media Group Website (www.Religazine.com) and the Hinterland Gazette (www.hingerlandgazette.com). She is a contributing author in the 2012 devotional Zoe Life Inspired, and is the author of a novel, The First Lady Chronicles: Quiet Desperation.