The moon is incredible tonight. It's low in the southwest sky and it must be close to the Earth because it is huge and golden. It's a crescent tonight, the perfect "lullaby" moon. You can almost imagine a baby nestled in its curve, sweetly dreaming the dreams of infants. Don't you wonder what they dream of?
I just came home from the church choir party -- the moon was so fascinating I very nearly drove past my house (and yes, I've lived here since 1996, so I should know where it is).
The choir party was wonderful, but that's because the people are so much like family. I don't know what I'd do without these folks. Tonight we enjoyed great quantities of food and music, singing just about every Christmas song 30 or so people could think of.
Even so, with such a warm group to love, I can't help but be sad this time of year. It just washes over me, usually triggered by one or two particular songs. Silent Night can do it. So can "O Holy Night." I can't even listen to sad country Christmas songs -- it's just torture.
My mom died on Christmas Eve five years ago, and there are times when it seems like it just happened. The end of her life was a holy time and I was blessed to spend the last several weeks with her. Everything between us was resolved. She gave me her blessings and we spent hours and hours talking about life. I was able to get my aunt to come visit her just a couple of days before she died, and that was the greatest visit ever.
Days before, Mom and I both knew she would be gone before Christmas came. We told the doctor -- he had his "doctorly doubts" but we knew. He couldn't even speak to me when it turned out we were right. He expected more time. But Mom and I have always just known things like that.
I barely had signed the papers for hospice care the night of Dec. 23. I kissed Mom good night, told her I loved her and asked her if she needed anything. She had been shaking violently all evening -- her hands and arms just couldn't rest quietly.
She looked up at me and told me she loved me and that I should go home and rest. So I patted her arms and hugged her and kissed her on the forehead. I was so sad to say good night -- my heart knew.
It was about 8 p.m. when I left her to go home. I couldn't rest, so I sat in my den, near the phone, just waiting. The phone rang at 1 a.m. Dec. 24 with word that she "had expired five minutes ago." I told them I would be right there.
It took me about two minutes -- the nursing home was just a couple of blocks from my house. I caught the staff by surprise -- they were all gathered in her room, crying and saying their goodbyes. It turns out that they had all come to her room to find out why she wasn't singing dirty songs. Huh? I didn't know she did that, but apparently every night it was her habit to start singing, loudly, all the bawdy songs she remembered from her time in nursing school. This night, she was quiet, so everyone dropped by to find out why she was being so quiet.
When she had her friends all around her, she smiled at them, they told me, and said she was so happy to see them all so she could say goodbye.
They gave me all the time I needed and wanted to be with her before I called the funeral home to make the arrangements for her to be picked up. In that regard, everything was handled well, as smoothly and kindly as it possibly could have been. My hometown funeral home had an arrangement with a local funeral home, and I was able to handle all the legal documents and business paperwork at the office the next day, by fax.
The hard part was knowing what to do after I cleaned out her room. It was Christmas Eve. What was I supposed to do? I was alone, devastated.
That night I went to Christmas Eve service at church. I sat on the back row and cried like a baby while the soloist sang "O Holy Night." As always, the service concluded with "Silent Night" as we lit candles to light the sanctuary. That's why I can barely listen to these songs now. As beautiful as they are, they've taken on a painful memory.
Since then, I've come to terms with making new holiday memories and trying to create new traditions. Even so, it's difficult. I have no close family left -- aunts, uncles and cousins, mostly in Missouri. So I have to make my own way. I've created new family ties with friends, but as dear as they are, it's not the same.
I don't wallow in self pity -- it's just a period of some sadness that I acknowledge and endure. I feel the pain, a little less each year, but it will always be there.
It does make the reason for Christmas more personal, though. After all, it was for that moment in each of our lives that the Christ child came to be our Emmanuel. His coming brought redemption to our deaths, and through Him we shall spend eternity in His glory. And that's something we can all celebrate, no matter what sorrows we carry.
May you each feel His peace this season.