Grief, Advent and Candles

I always look forward to Advent, my favorite liturgical season. I love the readings, the music, the anticipation, the twinkling of lights, the scent of candles, and the jingle of ornaments brushed by the backs and tails of cats who think the tree was decorated to amuse them and provide a nice napping spot. 

My family tradition is to put up the tree on Thanksgiving weekend, but I wasn’t ready this year. Having lost one of my boys (cats), Gandhi, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, and his brother, Dominic (Domi), the day after the holiday, I found it hard to do even the simplest things. This week has been better, but my third cat, Phoebe, and I are struggling to find a new normal. 

I know many people who are walking the same path this year, as int past years. I remember losing my brother a few Decembers ago, just before Christmas. I still half-expect the phone to ring on Christmas Day and to hear my brother’s voice on the other end. Others experience the same hope – and grief – when they see an empty chair at the Christmas table or miss contact with someone special during the holidays. Even though my two boys were cats, they had been my babies and companions for over fifteen years. Their departure leaves a massive hole in my household.

 I’m starting to dread holidays, wondering who will leave me. No, not just dread holidays, but dislike them –  no matter how nice I decorate the tree, bake savory presents for friends, and feel Christmas-y even around good friends.

I miss the anticipation of the holiday season that I used to have: riding around with my family, looking at houses and trees trimmed with lights, tinsel strings, and garlands. I miss the caroling we used to do. No matter how cold or miserable the weather, we would walk around town to visit to shut-in friends. We’d end evenings by gathering at someone’s house for hot chocolate and cider, Smithfield ham biscuits, and several kinds of holiday cookies. I miss the candlelight service at church, and the midnight mass especially, walking home in the wee small hours and looking up to see the stars twinkle more brightly than on any other night of the year. There was a feeling of heaven being close, only a thin veil between me and it. 

There was, and is, so much to look forward to during Advent and Christmas. Advent is preparation – contemplation, getting ready, and anticipation. It is a holy time without just a rush toward Christmas during which we are exposed to the media, shops, and stores. Despite grieving my boys, I still yearn the slightest bit of anticipatory joy. I want to enjoy the things I used to. I miss the Advent and Christmas seasons in  Colonial Williamsburg with its hot spiced cider and gingerbread, decorated 18th-century houses, and maybe even snow. I can make cider and gingerbread, but it isn’t quite the same, much as an almost empty house is not quite as joyful and familiar.

I know how lonely the holiday season, including Advent, can be. This year, my objective is to look around to see who could use a telephone call or a card. I don’t have much money, but perhaps I could knit a cap and mittens, even if Arizonans often scorn such things. I probably should get some plastic tubs and make shelters for my two outdoor cats, Buddy and Sandy. I should get out more and, when I do, smile more. Smiling at someone I don’t know, and getting one back, is really satisfying. And why should I resist doing that during the rest of the year? Don’t people need smiles all year round?

Ok, that is my Advent project. I still have my girl cat, my warm and dry trailer, the ability to decide what I will do and when (for the most part), and the desire to make the season a bit brighter. After all, the coming of Jesus during a dark period of life in the Middle East gave a tiny bit of light that grew and grew. Maybe I need to remind others, invite them to light a small candle and encourage them to pass the light along. The grief may still be there, but giving the ray of hope could make a big difference. 

 Have a blessed Advent. Still three weeks to go, so I better get busy. 

Image: Candle 22, Author: Arivumathi (2013). Found at Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter, and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.

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