By Joe Rector

Christmas is perhaps the day that brings the most happiness for most folks, but for some it’s a day that elicits sadness and loneliness. Those feelings are never more stinging than that first Christmas when a loved one is no longer there.

More than fifty years ago, my brothers, mother, and I agonized for more than a year as Daddy struggled with his health. For months, he was treated for allergies, as our family doctor and then a specialist misdiagnosed his ailment. The following April, another doctor visited his hospital room, looked at him, and announced that he suffered from lung cancer. The disease proved terminal, and Daddy died the last day August, which happened to be the first day of school.

That first Christmas was smothered with feelings of loss and loneliness. Jim and I got new bicycles, but they did little to bring much joy. In every direction we turned and every thought we held, our dad’s absences screamed at us. Only because extended family came to share dinner did we manage to survive the day.

In 1996, Mother gave us an almost yearlong battle with the same disease. She died in June. We boys, our wives, and our children met at her house on Christmas morning to exchange gifts. It was another dark time for us. We went through the motions of the season that day, mostly to make Christmas enjoyable for the younger ones, but they, too, dealt with their own feelings of loss and loneliness.

The death of my older brother brought another dose of pain. His battle with lung cancer officially began on Labor Day and ended only a few days into the following January. Jim and I didn’t have Christmas with Dal that last year because he was too sick to travel from Nashville. We knew where things would end, and that crushed Christmas. The following year, Dal’s wife Brenda and her young’uns stayed at home. We celebrated with our families amid bouts of loneliness and loss.

This year, Amy and I traveled to Cookeville to spend a day with some of her West relatives. Michael and Janice hosted a large crowd of relatives, and they exchanged gifts. Amy and I always go so that we stay in touch with folks that we love. The West children, now all closing in on senior citizen status, lost their mother Nellie only a couple of months ago. This year’s celebration was filled with plenty of laughter and fun, but the West kids, their children, and Amy and I felt the ache of Nellie’s absence.

All of us will experience this same loss of a loved one and will grieve a bit more on that first Christmas that a spouse or mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin is absent. What makes the day all the more difficult is the roller coaster of emotions takes us through the highs of love of those who are there to the lows of gut-wrenching sadness of the absences of that loved one. Yes, we manage to get through even though the pain and loss is sometimes unbearable.

What all of us must remember is that Christmas is the celebration of the coming of a savior. Because He came, all of us are free from the chains of death. At the end of this life, our spirits will be reunited with all those whom we have missed. Let’s celebrate the lives our loved ones and rest assured that they are alive in the arms of the very person whose birthday we love to recognize.

Merry Christmas!