Bittersweet December


Painful but Pretty

December is one third completed. How can this be? Didn’t I just turn the calendar over from November to December?

But December has happened, and I have to say these first eleven days of December have brought both great sadness and monumental joy.

The month started off with an email from a dear friend. The email was very short but its message devastating. Her husband had died quite suddenly during the night. As I read this email I pictured him as I saw him last. My husband and I shared a lovely lunch together when they visited us. I will always remember this lunch and those few hours the four of us shared.

My heart aches for my friend. My husband has had several very close calls with his health and I’ve lain awake many nights making sure he’s breathing. I’ve spent too many nights in hospitals wondering if he would pull through. I’ve always been thankful that he’s survived those times. I don’t know why. But I feel my friend’s loss, perhaps because I’ve felt the whisper of what she’s enduring and by a miracle escaped.

But December is not an easy month for me and this recent death solidifies that fact. You might ask why?

Ed & Grace

Because December has claimed too many people I dearly love.

First of all, my beloved Grandpa, Ed. He died quite suddenly during a blizzard while he was shoveling snow. The date? December 23, 1959. Christmas wasn’t really Christmas that year though it was a holiday he loved celebrating. Why was he shoveling snow? Because he couldn’t miss work—that wasn’t in his nature, and it was to be his last day before he retired.

I had helped him shop for Grandma the week before and then I wrapped his gifts for her. We were all devastated by his loss.

My dearest Grandma, Grace, Ed’s wife also died in December. But several years later in 1976 on the 13th. I remember she called earlier that day and asked me to stop by after my night class. I did and what she wanted was to give me a few very old photos that she’d written who the people were and about when the photos were taken. We talked about them. Two hours after I left her, I got the call to get to the hospital. She lived a few more hours, long enough for me to speak briefly with her.

And then she was gone. That was awful. Another not-so-great Christmas. A terrible December. The only good part? I know my grandpa was waiting for her and she’d missed him all those years he wasn’t with her. But as a family we needed her during those years. I guess that was God’s plan.

Perhaps the most difficult unexpected death, however, was my son, John. December 22, 1999. He was far too young to die. My grandpa never held John in his arms; he would have had he lived. My grandma held him, loved him, watched him grow to a teen–always with a smile on his face, a deep love for his family and Christmas. But oh, how that loss still haunts me, especially during December.

So December has often been the cruelest of months for me and my family.

Zach--just a few hours old

But this past week—a joyful event occurred. My dear niece and her husband welcomed the birth of a son, Zachary Charles. Family members are already referring to him as Zach. This anticipated babe joins his big sister who was also born in December. Thank goodness for these two precious children. The joy they bring eases the sadness of the month.

So my message this week?

Life is bittersweet. The bitter makes us strong. The sweet gives us the courage to be strong.

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16 Comments on “Bittersweet December”

  1. virginia mccullough Says:

    Lovely post, Mary Jo. It always seems particularly heartbreaking when tragedy occurs around the holiday season, yet we can’t control events. Over the years, holidays become bittersweet because few of us are immune from the mix of memories that affect how we feel during these weeks. The birth of a child around this time is certainly the sweet part of the association.

  2. Edie Ramer Says:

    Lots of hugs, Mary Jo. Our father-in-law passed away almost two years ago. Before last Christmas, my husband, his siblings and the grandkids split up his Christmas ornaments. My husband couldn’t bring himself to put any of the decorations on the tree last year or this year. It still hurts. Maybe next year.


  3. This was heart-rendering to read, but your last line really summed it up beautifully. Nothing is permanent, and there’s is nothing like death to remind us of that. My heart goes out to you as you grieve the loss of those dear to you. Please know that in all death, there is renewal of some kind.


  4. All I can say is, that was a very heartfelt, wonderful tribute to your loved ones. I wish you happier Christmas times. Remember the good times you had with them.


  5. Mary Jo, a huge, tight, loving hug for you for your losses. (and Deb’s this month) And another huge, happy hug of joy for the family addition, Great Auntie. Zach is beautiful! I hope you draw some comfort knowing your loved ones, especially your son, watch over you. My husband recently lost his uncle and a week before Jake died, he woke up to the vision of a cloud above his head, with a vision of his deceased mother calling him.

    As Patricia said, remember the good times with them.


  6. Virginia,

    If we live long enough, every season and every month is likely to bring memories, both good and bad. It”s a wise woman who understands this. You are wise, dear lady. Talk with you soon.


  7. Edie,

    I so understand your hubby not wanting to use those ornaments yet. But someday he will, or will pass them on to your son’s family and enjoy seeing them on that tree.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  8. Lorna,

    Grieving is part of life as your recent blog post pointed out. Sometimes it happens at the most unexpected and inconvenient times. But it is the wise woman who uses the emotion well.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  9. Patricia,

    All those I mentioned who have died deserve whatever tributes I might offer in their memory. Their joy in this month and the holiday of Christmas always temper my sadness at no longer having them here. But that’s the circle of life, right?

    Thanks for stopping by.


  10. Stacey,

    You know I always love the hugs and accept them happily. And Zach is such a cutie with great coloring for a newborn. He is well-loved.

    I so understand your example of your hubby’s uncle and his death. Sometimes I think many of us have moments when we slip the bonds of normal perception and move into a very special realm.

    Thanks for stopping in.


  11. Well, I’m late with my hugs, but they are extra tight because of it. I’m not great with the flowery words, but I know December is a hard month for you. I can only imagine how welcome Zach’s birth was, for your whole family.

    This will be my first Christmas without my mom…still so hard to believe. And just yesterday Paul discovered his aunt/godmother passed away. I try to get into the holiday spirit, but it’s not easy. Maybe I need to make some cookies. 😉


  12. Donna,

    This year will be different without your mom, but remember the Christmases in the past when she was around and know that she’s enjoying the season in a place where things are much better–that’s what heaven’s supposed to be, right? And then you can miss her a bit.

    I’m so sorry about Paul’s aunt passed away. Those times are always difficult especially at this time of year when we want to focus on happy.

    Cookies always make things better. Think cookies for sure. 🙂

  13. Anne Parent Says:

    I, too, lost my grandfather, also named Ed, on December 23, but the year was 1966. I have a picture of him holding me when I was a baby and it is priceless to me. The lovely memories of this man remind me that life is very special, but cannot be taken for granted. Thank you for reminding us that we should remember the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope.
    Love ya, MJ!


  14. Anne,

    Love ya also!

    Imagine that we both have grandfathers named Ed. Mom and I lived with my grandparents during WWII while my dad was in service in the South Pacific. Grandpa and I really bonded and I have some treasured photos of him and me then. Someday I’ll have to post them but right now they’re framed on my family wall. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by.

  15. Arlene LoPiccolo Says:

    Hi and Merry Christmas,
    yes, December can be rough but the decorations and anticipation of the children for Santa to arrive helps defer the sadness and missing of relatives who passed in this month of my birth. I lost my mother 9 yrs. ago on Dec. 19th. A cousin 6 yrs ago on the 15th and an uncle this year on the 14th. We had to wait for my mothers funeral as my brother was hospitalized with heart problems in northern WI. We had to hold off telling him of my mother’s sudden passing. The funeral would be after Christmas that year…a long wait. Thank goodness our son, wife, and 1 1/2 year old grandson were living with us while they waited for their house to be completed. That child brought such joy into the house we could not help but be merry on Christmas.
    In fact, he continues to do the same each year. Of course, We always remember our family members and their first Christmas’s in heaven and how special they all were to us.
    love ya,
    Arlene

  16. Claudia Jean Says:

    Mary Jo — Just to let you know — the snow shovel that your grandpa was using when he had the heart attack has been officially retired as of this winter. Your mom told me that maybe this time the snow shovel would lose. I think that it has.


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