I got married four days after Christmas. At the time, this made perfect sense. 1. I love Christmas, both the church and the reception venue would still be decorated for Christmas-this would save me a ton of money and was my preferred aesthetic. 2. I was finishing graduate school in December, so I would be moving and starting a new life anyway-the timing just made sense. 3. Many people (especially my family full of teachers) have time off around the holidays so this would make it easier for guests to attend our wedding. Finally, I would already be so caught up in the holiday spirit, why not add another insanely happy event to the season.
And it was. My wedding day was legitimately the happiest day of my life. I even got the exact picture that was in my head when we booked the reception venue-I posted it on the widowed and writing Instagram account. As any bride knows, this rarely happens. Since I’m a teacher and my late husband eventually worked at a church the time leading up to Christmas was often exceptionally busy. But we were always able to take a little getaway for our anniversary, sometimes it was small like going into the city for the weekend (doesn’t the Muter museum of medical oddities just scream romantic anniversary date), or a long weekend in Cape May (but seriously the beach in the wintertime is amazing), and, of course, the cheesy couples retreats in the Poconos. The timing of our anniversary was really working out.
Cut to my husband is dead. And now our wedding anniversary caps off a season full of grief triggers; and each year they hit a little bit different. A popular saying in the grief community is “grief is just love with nowhere else to go.” And, if I’m honest, I kinda hate that saying. It’s true but it really triggers my anti-sappy bias. If I’m being especially nit-picky (and I’m sad so lets just go for it) I think it can diminish all the places love still goes. In fact, while I cried a lot this holiday season, they weren’t tears of sorrow (most of the time), they were tears of love (and yes, that is also disgustingly sappy and I really, really tried to think of a different way to phrase it but nothing came to me).
Attending the family Christmas Eve service, featuring the children’s pageant is a mixed bag of emotions because my husband and I used to have much more active roles in the pageant. As the director of children and youth he would function as assistant director/child wrangler and for years I was the accompanist. Dead husband = get out of the pageant free card so I no longer have all of the stress that goes along with that particular Christmas tradition, but you also lose some of the joy of seeing the kids put on their costumes for the first time or how important they feel when they first get to use the microphone. This year I was able to watch the pageant with joy (and gratitude that I was not the person who needed to figure out what exactly was happening with the wise men) but then we got to the end of the service where the lights dim, the congregation lights candles and we sing Silent Night. To be fair, this is an emotionally charged moment for almost everyone, and I was really keeping it together until I looked up at the children still seated in the front as they held up their candles. I was overwhelmed with love. Some of these children I see once a week for piano lessons, others I had worked with for their first pageant, and some of the older children I had seen every week in Sunday School and walked through confirmation with them. In that moment it hit me just how much I love them and how their presence in my life makes me better. And there were tears of love.
You would think that I then had it all together for the second service but that was not really the case. Since widowhood, I have had a new appreciation for the scriptures that are read every year. I am a living testament that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. One of my favorite parts of the later service is that, since I am sitting in the choir loft, I can see how the light spreads throughout the congregation as the candles are lit. It is a beautiful image. I saw my pastors walk up the aisle and, again, tears of love sprang to my eyes. I will never be able to fully articulate the love and gratitude I have for them. I looked to the congregation, their candles held high, and I heard God saying, “this is the light I have sent to you.” The light didn’t stop in the stable.
Grief may sometimes feel like love with nowhere to go. But, that love isn’t stuck. It’s not trapped in some box, stymied by tape that screams ‘do not cross.’ That love cannot help but spill over into the world. Because that’s what love does. When your person dies the love doesn’t die with them, it becomes something new. We see this at Christmas. “Love has come a light in the darkness! Love explodes in the Bethlehem skies…Love has come He never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free. Love is Jesus within and among us. Love is the peace our hearts are seeking. Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas.”
Christmas celebrations include time spent with family and I am richly blessed with a truly wonderful family. Love spills over onto nephews and cousins and aunts and uncles. I think a better saying might be grief is love tainted with sorrow. As I watch my younger nephew play peek-a-boo I think of how my husband played peek-a-boo with my older nephew at that same table. I remember with fondness and love, but then there is the gut punch that my older nephew won’t remember that experience and my younger nephew never even had the opportunity. But I remember, his family remembers, and that table is still enveloped in love.
And then comes my anniversary. Our anniversary. Or whatever you call something that celebrates two when now there is now only one. I am spending the day at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in fact I’m typing this in their great stair hall (which makes me feel very fancy-I love the vibes), and looking at so much of the art lets me feel my feelings in a way that feels safe. Art is great for that. I might even get some cake at their cafe-after all, anniversaries deserve cake. As I wrote this post and reflected on love and loss I decided that instead of “grief is love with no place to go” I prefer, “grief is love with some extra seasoning.” Or, even better, “grief is spicy love.” It isn’t that love has nowhere to go it’s that that love has added layers of complexity. It’s spicy.