by Kristen Glass Perez—
I love Christmas. My husband, Javier, didn’t. Or perhaps more accurately, he didn’t love decorating for Christmas. In the six years that we were married before his sudden and unexpected death, we negotiated Christmas very carefully. Though he didn’t describe it this way, Javier was actually an Advent purist. He would not tolerate Christmas decorations in October or November. Anything before December was pushing it, so the day after Thanksgiving was our compromise. On that day, I could decorate. It was “game on” for me.
The first year we were married, as a surprise, Javier put up evergreens with festive red bows on the outside of our home on the day after Thanksgiving. It remains one of the most grace-filled moments of our marriage; something done in love for another not because you love it, but because you know it will make them happy.
When his favorite NFL team, the Chicago Bears, played on Christmas Eve that same year, there was an opportunity for me to return grace and compromise. The game would literally be “on” for Javier!
The first Christmas after Javier died, I very briefly contemplated not putting up my Christmas trees—all four of them. For lots of people, decorating is too much after an experience with grief. Yet over and over in my heart and my mind I could hear and feel Javier urging me to decorate. I imagined him laughing and saying: “This is not the year to go sparse on Christmas decorating. Put up the trees—all of the trees.” So I did. I even got a new Christmas tree arch that was 9 feet tall and looked like something that you might see decorating a department store. Here was my reasoning: Javier was dead. Javier’s wife was dead. Kristen, though, is alive. This was my mantra. It was, in fact, one of the only ways that I could get through the season. So, if Kristen is alive, Kristen puts up a Christmas tree—and an arch.
THE FULLNESS OF GRIEF
In the texts for Advent, we read this in Matthew’s Gospel:
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming (Matthew 24:38-42).
I am startled by this text. Before my experience with grief, I would’ve glossed over this and moved right along in Matthew to the magi following the star to Jesus. Now I linger here, knowing exactly what the Gospel writer means. One day, two people are married, and the next they are drowning in the flood of the unexpected. In one instant, it seems, it is November, and my husband is playfully rolling his eyes at me; in the next instant, I’m alone, wondering if I should put up a tree by myself. I have moved from allegory to lived experience, and I am livid. Where is the life that I recognize? Where did it go? Why is there this rush to Christmas?
Like the Salvation Army bells, these questions ring loud and clear in my heart and mind.
The Rev. Kristen Glass Perez is the College Chaplain at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
This article is excerpted from the December 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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