We all have images about how life should look, and those images are never more powerful than when we look ahead to a holiday.

My wife, Bonnie, loved Christmas. The fall when she was dying of cancer, she ordered presents by phone and online, sent our daughter Rebecca to stores, and had me pack presents for shipping. She finished all her Christmas shopping, and she died on the 17th of December.

A couple of days after Bonnie’s memorial service, Rebecca and I opened the gifts Bonnie had bought for us. We were numb, uprooted. The only thing stranger than opening those presents would have been … not opening them.

Birth, love, family, loss — all these come together in the year-end holidays that we celebrate in the longest nights of the year, when we are bracing ourselves for the deepest part of winter, when we are hoping and waiting for the days to grow longer and brighter.

Do you wonder if the holidays will ever be happy again? Are you saddened by the feeling that holidays are “not the way they should be”?

For many of us, the death of someone very dear to us is the doorway to a new world, and we feel cheated out of holidays that we thought would return in the same way, year after year. The rituals of a holiday can highlight the deep changes that death has brought to our lives.

But I want to suggest that holidays can also be infused with sweetness as well as sadness arising from memories of past holidays with people we loved and lost.

My years with Bonnie have endowed Christmas with a depth of meaning that I never brought to it on my own. The memory of Christmases with her is present like incense in the room when I celebrate Christmas now, with my new family and friends.

There’s no way I can bring Bonnie back to be with me at Christmas, but there are ways that I can celebrate her love for these holidays and re-create the beauty that she gave to them. I can light candles as Bonnie loved to do. I can give careful thought, as she did, to gifts that will bring pleasure to my family and friends. I can do these things, and I can choose not to. The only imperative is the one I have chosen — to experience fully my love for Bonnie, even if it is a sorrowful love, and to experience fully my love for my new family and the friends who are with me now.

Birth, love, family, loss: all of these come together in the year-end holidays. These precious holidays in the longest nights of the year remind us that there is life in the darkness, birth in the midst of loss.

Are your holidays dimmed by memories of people who will never again share them with you? This holiday, what would happen if you asked yourself this question …

“What can I do to make this the richest, sweetest, and most loving holiday possible?”

In these longest nights of the year, we’re celebrating birth, loss, love and family. Each of us knows what we’ve lost. And if we embrace love, family and friends, there’s no telling what may be born.

Tags: , , ,

Paul Bennett

Paul Bennett is a writer living near Washington, DC. He was married to Bonnie Bunting for twenty years. After her death in 2002, he began writing and speaking about grief and about his exploration of spiritual and emotional growth as he built a new life. His book, Loving Grief, published by Larson Publications, was named “Best Inspirational Book” for the fall of 2009 by The Montserrat Review. For more information on the book, visit www.lovinggrief.com. To listen to Paul’s interview with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link: http://www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley102209.mp3. A video of Paul reading from Loving Grief is on the AARP site at: http://radioprimetime.org/specials/focusspecials/bennett/index.htm.

More Articles Written by Paul