Advent and Christmas

Early in the morning on December 24, my aunt Cheryl passed away.  She was 59.

It’s been a very strange few days here around the house.  Rachael and I were both quite sick over the weekend, and on the 23rd I was on the second really bad day of my illness when my mom called me to say that Cheryl was in the hospital, and the doctors expected that she wouldn’t last the day.  I told her that I’d be there as soon as I could, and then Rachael reminded me that I was feverish, and therefore contagious, and not fit to drive two hours to Atlanta that day.

So I spent the day resting at home and waiting for the inevitable news.

I should say that I don’t regret having to stay home; I had the good fortune to see Cheryl just at Thanksgiving and to let her know that I loved her.  We took a big family photo at that gathering.

Now it’s December 25, and I’m pondering what the remainder of this week will bring.  Tonight my family will celebrate Christmas.  Tomorrow we’ll rest.  Friday there will be a viewing, and on Saturday, the funeral.  My cousin’s asked me to be a pall bearer, and I’m honored to do it.

At this moment, while I’m sitting here in my living room writing down these thoughts, it doesn’t feel quite real yet.  I’m sure it will soon enough, when I see my family.  Lots of things whirl around in my head: memories of Cheryl from when I was a child, sadness at how poor her health has been for years, relief that she’s not suffering anymore, regret that her grandchildren lost their Nana so young.

Perhaps the most persistent, inane thought is this: Cheryl left us on the last day of Advent.

In the Christian calendar, Advent is a season of deprivation and hope.  The world grows more and more bleak as winter sets in, and we feel the darkness of our lives crowd around us as we sit and wait for something better to arrive.  We are longing for the sunrise.

Following Advent, we get Christmas.  It’s a celebration; God is with us, now and forevermore.  The wait is over.

It’s hard to feel like today should be a celebration.  My family has lost a part of itself.  We’ll eat good food and exchange gifts tonight, and mixed in with the laughter and the smiles will be tears, because how can you not have tears in the wake of something like this?

And I remember that tears express both joy and grief; sorrow and relief.  Cheryl has left us, but she is with God.  And God is with us.

The wait is over.

Merry Christmas.

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