Tears of Love

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.

One thought on “Tears of Love

  1. If you count my time as Senior Chaplain at Arlington National Cemetery, what i do now with the veterans. I likely have done over 2,000 funerals, memorials, internment, burials at sea over the career. Basically I have allot of experience seeing and talking to people on the precise likely worst days of their lives. What I have come to learn is just how we continue as a culture, society, people, church, religion to F up grief, mourning, and the process of death and dying in the families. In my doctoral program in counseling, not all that long ago, we were told by some otherwise smart people that extended grief or mourning is a DSM 5 type of anxiety related disorder, that one either needs to be counseled or medicated, or both, through to the next chapter. And most Religious professionals, due to their own lack of training and lack of confidence in the matter, either avoid the topics, or load up on so much God-talk and cliche nonsense they are useless in most circumstances.

    Daily at Arlington my day would start about 5:30AM when I got to the office, and go over the duties of the day and make the assignments of coverage, brief the Commanding General, and get ready for the gates to open at 9. But prior to that we allowed the families of those interred on the grounds about 7AM in the summer. And they would come, with back packs, picnic lunches, chairs, blankets, presents if a birthday in the family, and would go primarily to section 60 where most of the Iraq Afghanistan casualties were buried, and would have an extended family celebrations over the graves of their loved one, and talk to them as if they were present with them. (Hint, they were). I baptized more than one baby over the graves of their fathers. And would stay until we closed the gates at dusk. Bizarre, odd? far from it.

    The 19th century Victorians had the same practice at cemeteries. Which is why many old cemeteries resemble more public parks with benches. They knew, what we either forget, or try to counsel, medicate out of. Death is not the final word. Love survives the grave into eternity. Physical life/physical death is just a moment in the great continuity of life. The dead never leave us, in fact they never left in the first place. And in some cases, and times, they are more real than when alive. And we will see them again with our own eyes, and know when we are in their presence. We feel them in the hear and now. And I think that is why families as far as Alaska, Philippines made those journeys. Healing is a life long process, there are no short cuts or easy days. There are days where to use a term we used in the Marine Corps, we are “in the suck”, embrace it we must. Other days far sweeter, embrace those as well.

    As far as kids Christmas pageants, its not 1947. Life has changed. And there are good times to do such. Stress of Christmas eve not one of them. Which is why God made Advent so long. Thank you God. Think outside the box.


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