Christmas can be a time of great sadness and grief even in the midst of our celebrations. Jeannie Blackmer vulnerably shares her story.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
Living in the tension of celebration and sadness.
By Jeannie Blackmer
Almost one year ago I stood on ashes, mangled blackened metal and broken glass. Piles of rubble surrounded me. Stunned and devastated, I looked at what had been our beautiful home. I’ll never forget the sickening smell of smoke from the Marshall fire in Boulder, Colorado that destroyed more than 1000 homes. Wearing the same clothing I had evacuated in, I searched through the soot looking for any valuable remains. Nothing. Then I spotted a couple of teacups from my collection of Christmas dishes. They were blackened and broken. Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks as the reality hit me that all our possessions were gone. My silver flatware set from my grandmother, my dangle gold and pearl wedding earrings, our family photo albums, my new sweater, my collection of Christmas dishes we started 36 years ago…everything. We had a lot of stuff that didn’t matter, but the things with meaning and memories attached, all destroyed. My heart broke.
This past year has been one of celebration and sadness. At times I’m filled with joy. We are alive. We have a home to rent. We have our dog. We have a loving family and an amazing community surrounding us. I can clearly remember the trauma of my husband, our chocolate lab and I running to our car, the wind howling, ashes raining down on us, as flames climbed the hill toward our home. The memory has left a lasting mark, but I rarely have nightmares anymore. I go entire days without thinking about the fire.
Then recently, I walked into Costco and my senses were bombarded with Christmas decorations, holiday music, bows and wrapping paper, even Christmas trees. My stomach churned with anxiety, tears sprung to my eyes and I turned around and hustled out the door. I sat in my car and let the tears flow. This Christmas is going to look so much different for me and my family. We are trying to enjoy the present moments and deal with the pain of loss at the same time.
I experience the joy and hope of Christmas as I attend parties and the annual ornament exchange with girlfriends. Then I remember the morning of the fire, December 30. I was putting away our Christmas decorations. I had sorted the boy’s ornaments into their own storage boxes. Ornaments we had thoughtfully selected based on meaningful moments of each year of their life. The tears flowed again.
We’ve had many miracles. For instance, our photos from our wedding, early years of marriage and when our children were babies were taken with cameras using negatives - no iCloud storage. So, we assumed those would never be restored. But one of my sister-in-law’s had taken a picture of every page of our wedding album and made her own. We can recreate what we had. And friends and family are sending us photos of our younger years and our children. We’re remaking scrapbooks that will probably be better than before. We also had a friend who went to Africa replace one of my favorite nativity sets I bought there years ago.
This Christmas may not be the most wonderful time of the year for me, but, whether I’m celebrating or sad, this year I’m more assured that Jesus, Immanuel, is with me, in both the joy and sorrow.
If you are struggling with sadness or grief this holiday season, please seek help. Some local churches have special services for those struggling with grief at Christmas. The American Association of Christian Counselors has a zip code locator for you to find a counselor near you. Also the US Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is now available by dialing 988.
Jeannie Blackmer is an author who lives in Boulder, CO. Her most recent book is Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer and she’s also recently contributed to several devotionals including, Mornings with Jesus, and One Minute Daily Devotionals. She worked at MOPS as the publishing manager and also authored the 2011 theme book, MomSense: A Common Sense Guide to Confident Mothering. She’s passionate about using written words to encourage women in their relationships with Jesus. She loves chocolate (probably too much), scuba diving, bee keeping, a good inspirational story, her family and being outside as much as possible. She and her husband, Zane, have three adult sons. Find out more about Jeannie on her website at www.jeannieblackmer.com.