Christmas was hard this year.
As an Orthodox Christian, I am supposed to remember that Christmas is not just about nostalgia. Christmas is the incarnation of God, and it’s important to us. That’s why the only more important holiday in our liturgical year is Pascha.
Christmas is the beginning of hope. I think that’s why it was so hard this year. I can accept that Christmas hope is hope for my soul, hope for my children, hope for something beyond this right now. But it’s difficult when the hope is sucked right out of me. I didn’t realise how much hope I actually had until Tuesday. Now I feel like I am so out of hope, I owe someone some.
We were almost in desperation trying to get to a church for Christmas. My husband’s family is agnostic but puts up with us so long as we don’t interfere with their plans (not always easy to do), so there was no hope of asking someone to take us to church. Instead, we found a church somewhat nearby that had services during hours on Christmas Eve that fit into his family’s schedule (there was no way we could get to Christmas Day services) and figured out how to get there via public transit. We only had to take two buses and walk about two miles to get there, but it was one of the worst things I have had to do. We weren’t anticipating when we planned this trip that I would be in the middle of having a miscarriage. I suppose I already had the night before, but the bleeding doesn’t just stop. I felt weary from blood loss and urgently needed to use the bathroom a couple of times (at one point, we had gone to about a dozen businesses looking for a restroom, and they all said they were either closed or had none, and one said, “It’s only for customers,” so my husband replied, “Then how much do I need to pay you to let her use it?” I was weeping profusely at that point, and I never learned if my husband actually had to pay them or if they just had sympathy for me.). We eventually got to the church with our luggage, and oddly, no one ever asked why we had luggage or how we got there without a car. Apparently walking to church there must be normal… I was glad that they did the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil as well as Orthros for Christmas because I felt like I actually got most of the Christmas services in then (they did skip a lot of parts and were a lot more western/Russian than I anticipated in light of the fact that they are Antiochian). Being in a somewhat familiar service even in a strange place with people I had never met (save for two, one of whom shares my name) was oddly comforting. But I cried a lot. Part of it was the exhaustion from all that my body had been doing, and part of it was all of the hurt and sadness I have experienced this year. I also think part of it was bits and pieces of joy creeping into my very broken heart.
Christmas was hard because there was no acknowledgment from anyone that it should be hard for us. If anything, people have avoided us (mostly me, however) since Seraphim’s death, not embraced us. It was easiest to see in the number of Christmas cards we received this year. No one from our parish sent us a card; last year our refrigerator was plastered in dozens of them. The only time anyone even so much as mentioned Seraphim was in a card from a family at another parish who we see maybe twice a year. They had lost a couple of babies to miscarriages, and are some of the most selfless people I know (the mother of the family made us a beautiful shadowbox of baby things with Seraphim’s name on it–none of the items were actually Seraphim’s, but it means a lot to me as time goes on because it feels symbolic of all of the lost things of his life–the things we didn’t get to do, the clothes he didn’t get to wear.). Our families never mentioned him or made any comment whatsoever about us trying to have our own family. It made it doubly difficult that I lost our new baby the day before Christmas Eve so very silently and was still physically suffering from it–never mind emotionally. My husband decided that if “it came up,” then we would talk about it, but of course it never came up.
Christmas is hard because it is a season of hope, love, and joy. All of these seem dashed upon the rocks for me. I am trying to keep my head up so I can see the beauty around me and be thankful for all of the little things–like the first glimpse of snow this winter since the storms have swirled around us but never come close enough yet. I read a book a couple of months ago (The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown) that pointed out something that I always suspected to be true, but has stuck with me: those who can take the time to acknowledge the beauty around them in the midst of tragedy have a better chance of surviving the tragedy, no matter what it is. I have always found it important to look for the beauty in the small things, especially when life is difficult. It is hard to be thankful, but sometimes it’s the only thing I have left.
Mostly I just want to be mad, and I want to dissolve into my sorrow and anger that things are the way they are. So I complain. But I am trying to hard to rediscover the hope, love, and joy that I have lost. I am trying to identify them in things outside of me so that maybe someday I can remember what it is like to have them inside.
It’s not easy, so Christmas was and is hard.