Christmas is just around the corner.  Everywhere I look, there are sparkling lights and festive decorations.  My own Christmas tree is in place; and now that my Favorite Child’s birthday is over, I will begin to add a lifetime of ornaments to the colored lights that have sufficed so as not to overshadow her celebration.  The gifts are ready for wrapping, and the calendar is almost in order for the joyful time of year when all of my children and grandchildren gather in one place — my place — at the same time.  There will be tons of chatter, unending hugs, and the sounds of laughter and the telling of the old stories that define us as a family.  New stories will be added; and by next Christmas, even the youngest children will find that they have become a part of the family’s history.  They will learn from our celebration and take in our traditions without even realizing what is happening, and I will watch as history repeats in the children of my own children.  I am excited and busy and indulging in my usual worry that it will never come together in time — but it will.  And I will watch the magic of Christmas and family and all that love dance in the eyes of the people who are dearest to me.

So why am I crying?

In the deep silence that lives at the very core of me, the music is muffled and the lights are a bit dim.  You see, one of Santa’s best helpers is not with us this Christmas.  My dad finally let go of this world in July.  Life has gone on, and I have thought of him often as new events have unfolded.  “Dad would have loved to hear that one,” I’ve thought more than once, and I’ve missed being able to pick up the phone and bring him up to date.  I know he’s in the loop — watching over all that transpires in his clan — but there was such joy in telling the stories and hearing his delight.  Christmas is especially hard.  Dad was such a great co-conspirator at Christmas.  He was the one who always wanted to know what I was planning to give each member of the family.  He was the great secret-keeper who shared my plans and built my anticipation of enjoying the surprises I had in mind for each person on my list.  In a way, he started it all.  Dad was the one, when we were children, who heroically delivered the tree on Christmas Eve.  I remember him pulling it into the house, needles dropping everywhere and snowy boot prints defining his path.  I also remember him bringing in giant boxes with gifts of clothing for my mother.  He would show them to me and then beg my assistance in wrapping them, thus beginning our life-long conspiratorial tradition.

This year the phone will not ring.  There will be no sound of Dad’s voice at the other end of the line, wishing me a Merry Christmas and wanting to know every detail of every reaction of every child on Christmas morning.

I wanted to write this today, because I know there are many people having the same sort of blue Christmas I am having this year.  I need to write this because for some odd reason, people see me as strong and stoic and able to get through difficulty unscathed.  I need for people to know that they are right — but that I still cry at every sappy video and every Christmas movie I’ve seen a thousand times.  I need for people to know that in the deep silence, at the very core of every one of us, there resides joy and sorrow and grief and loss and renewal and healing.  As I visit that place this Christmas and let my tears flow, I want to remember — and to remind you, my dear friends and family — to look through the mist and see all that dwells there.

I have visited this place more than once in my lifetime; and I suppose you could say that I’ve had some pretty big losses along the way.  I’m here to tell you today that it took some time in the deep silence to discover all the good things that mingle there with the bad ones.  I’m here to tell you that if you are visiting that deep silence for the very first time, do not be afraid.  You will be there for a time; but if you stay long enough, your joy will return, your sorrow will subside, and you will leave strong and renewed and ready to live the sort of life wished for you by the person you are missing.

I want to thank you for seeing me as strong, because it encourages me to remember that as time passes I will feel that way again.  I want to thank every person who shows me in every small way that they recognize who I am — so that I can remember, too, if I get caught up in my tears and forget.  I want to remind every one of you that you, too, are strong — in that deep silence that dwells at the very core of you.  One day the tears will stop, but probably not today.  But I see you.  And you are beautiful and strong and loved.