Monday, November 12, 2012

A Not So Silent Night

Dear lovely readers, Lorie here. As much as I hate to be a downer, today I want to share a holiday experience that was not so merry, but very close to my heart. So, grab a warm beverage of your choice and keep the tissues handy.

There are times when our most treasured holiday traditions are derailed. When customs we hold sacred get blown out of the water by tragedy, never to be the same again.

Since my earliest memories, my family would head to church on Christmas Eve for a candlelight service. After the pastor told the magical story of the baby in the manger, the angels trumpeting His arrival into our world, a reverent hush would fall over the congregation in anticipation of the climax of the evening. Gradually, all the lights in the sanctuary were extinguished, giving way to an all-encompassing darkness. 

In those long seconds of blackness, I would blink into nothingness, a bubble of panic forming in my chest. Then, a single flame drew my eye as the pastor spoke of the Christ child as the Light of the world, and a simple melody began to play into the quiet.

As I joined in singing the familiar words, the ushers lit their candles from the single flame and moved through the crowd, each of our little candles glowing as the light was passed from person to person, pew after pew, until the sanctuary shone like daylight.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace…

Even as a child, my heart would swell as we neared the end of the familiar hymn and I raised my candle above my head, symbolizing the light that burned inside each one of us.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth…

When I was eighteen, I came home from college for winter break and, as was our custom, my family attended the candlelight Christmas Eve service. It was moving and beautiful, as always. But what I didn’t know, is it would be the last one I would enjoy for many years to come.

Five days after Christmas, my cousin Robbie passed away in a tragic accident. He was two years younger than me, but we were so close we would lie and tell people we were brother and sister. He was one of my best friends.

As I stood at his funeral, trembling with the effort to keep myself from screaming, a familiar song began to play. Disembodied voices floated down from the choir loft, and the deranged words of my favorite carol filled the church.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Rob, sleep in heavenly peace
Rob, sleep in heavenly peace…          

Like a nightmare, the song seemed to go on forever, repeating the same verse, until the ruined lyrics became branded on my brain. Even through my grief, a deep anger resonated in my soul. How dare they defile this sacred hymn? Did it honor Rob’s memory to compare him to the Son of God? Somehow, I didn’t think so.

For years after, I couldn’t hear Silent Night without experiencing a fresh wave of grief. And on Christmas Eve, instead of raising my candle in reverence, I raised it in mourning, tears streaming down my face.

As an adult, I’ve continued the tradition of candlelight Christmas Eve service with my family, and through my children’s eyes, I’ve made peace with this song. A combination of time and faith now overrides my grief, and raising my candle and singing Silent Night is once again a highlight of my yearly celebration—part reverent worship and part memorial to the boy we lost. 

How about you, dear reader? Have any of your holiday traditions crashed and burned over the years? How were you able to salvage them over time?



Jennifer McGowan said...

Lorie, I could not even imagine going through a funeral that attached a beloved hymn so irrevocably to such a powerful loss. My heart goes out to you.

My tradition changing has been a gradual one -- because I'm admittedly kind of odd. :) I collect old world Santas. I don't have dozens of them, but probably twenty or so that just make me smile, most of them carved out of wood. Every post-Christmas, I'd apologize to these Santas for putting them away in a box, not to be seen for another year. Until a few years ago when... I just left them up. I took down the fake snow and the little trees, but I left the Santas at their places, sentinels of grace and giving in their long robes, holding up their candles.

So now, as Christmas approaches, I do decorate for the holidays, but in many ways, I've kept the reminder of Christmas going throughout the year. I'm sure it seems a little odd for others to see the old guys gathered round for a chat in the middle of July, but having them out makes me remember the best part of the holiday.

Wonderful post!

Lorie Langdon said...

Hi Jenn - I love that you see these reminders of grace everyday! I don't think your odd at all. ;-) But then again, I'm as sentimental as they come!
Thanks for sharing. :)

Melissa Landers said...


That was a beautiful and heartbreaking story. Thanks for sharing it, Lorie.

I can't think of any personal traditions that have 'crashed and burned' for any reason other than my own laziness. Some activities get the ax because they're too time-consuming.

Lorie Langdon said...

Thanks,Mel - I have some of those traditions that went the way of decorating each package as if it were a piece of art. It got way too time consuming after I had kids, not to mention expensive. ;o)

Becke Davis said...

Lorie - I'll never hear Silent Night again without thinking of this. I've never gone through anything like it, but it reminded me of a very good friend whose brother died (of cancer) on her birthday.

It was horrible for her - she was an adult then, and so was her brother, but they had always been very close and his death was devastating to her.

I think she's come to terms with it - it happened many years ago - but I know her birthdays were hard for a long time.

I'm so sorry for your loss, Lorie. I've never lost anyone that close and can only imagine how heartbreaking it would be.


Lorie Langdon said...

Thank you, sweet Becke! It's odd how grief dulls over time, but never truly leaves us.
Writing is one of my best therapies though, so this was cleansing for me. :)

Becke Davis said...

I've never had to deal with a loss like this. It must have been terrible for you. ((hugs))

Kristi Cook said...

What a heartbreaking story, Lori. Big hugs coming your way. But yes, this is one of the great things about being a writer--being able to channel that kind of grief/loss/heartbreak/ into our characters, making them so much more authentic and "real."

Lorie Langdon said...

Thanks Kristi. You are so right about channeling our personal experiences into our writing--it's not only cathartic, but it lends authenticity to our characters.
I'll take the *big hugs* anytime! :)

Kimberly said...

I know it's been many years, but I'm sorry for your loss. It's a loss that you must feel even more profoundly during the Christmas holiday. My heart just breaks thinking about what you went through.
For me, the holiday and small personal tradition that changed was about my third grade teacher, Mrs. Moekle. I loved her! She was my first "favorite" teacher. Every year, I would go back to her class and give her a Christmas gift. In elementary school, that little trip down a different hallway wasn't that big of a deal. In seventh grade, it became more difficult. I could have forgotten her, but I never did. Still, years after I had her in third grade i continued to go back and visit her at Christmas. Now at her home.
Then one year, my mom called her home a few days before Christmas so I could take her my present. I watched my mom's face fall, and I knew. I just knew she had died. It was cancer. And it took her quickly after the diagnosis.
Just as my mom was hanging up the phone, I heard her say, "Yes. My daughter's name IS Kim." And then tears came into her eyes.
When she hung up the phone, she turned and told me to get my coat. Mrs. Moekle had left me a gift under her tree.
I cry every time I think about that. That this wonderful woman, dying of cancer, knew one of her former students would be coming by with a gift, and she left me one instead.
I think of her EVERY single Christmas.
That's a small loss compared to yours, but it shows how teachers affect kids for all time.

Lorie Langdon said...

Kim- That is a beautiful story and it says so much about the person you are. :) Thank you for sharing it with us!

Pintip said...

Hi Lorie, that is such a sad story. I am so sorry for you loss, and I am glad that you were able to find peace with that song. Similarly to Becke's friend, my mother passed away the day after my birthday, so that time of year is always bittersweet for me. Celebration on one day, and somber reflection on the second. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Lorie Langdon said...

Thank you, Pintip. It's been a long time, and although writing about it brings back fresh memories, my life is so full of love now that I don't dwell on it. :D

Anonymous said...

Losing my only son, Rob, was devastating but I had three young girls who were also suffering from the loss of their brother. I saw the hurt in their hearts, as well as that in others that loved him. My girls needed to know there would still be joy, laughter and holiday traditions. They taught me that we must continue to celebrate life, love even deeper, forgive the small stuff and yet never forget those we have lost. You learn to appreciate every wonderful moment together with family and friends is precious knowing it could be the last.

Lorie Langdon said...

Aunt Deb, this is beautiful and so true. Thank you for sharing with us.

Jennifer McAndrews said...

Lorie, thank you for sharing this with us. And thanks to Aunt Deb for her words as well. This is resonating so deeply for me as we approach the holiday season. thanks to you both for reminding me to find the joy and the peace despite the heartache.

Lorie Langdon said...

Jen, I so wish I could give you a long hug right now.
My aunt has been through the worst pain I could possibly imagine, but she's so right when she says our moments with family and friends are precious. Loss gives us new perspective.
My thoughts and prayers are with your family. :)

Dinah said...

Hi my sweet Lorie,

I must have forgotten about how this song bothered you so much every Christmas. I remember you sharing this once with me a long time ago and we cried a little together.

Losing Rob has always left a big hole in my chest, also. It seems that when he was with us, there was so much joy and laughter. Then after he was gone, sadness and tears filled our lives.

Now that the years have passed, I treasure every moment we had together and I know we will be with him again one day. Rob has a big job in Heaven now - this I truly believe. He coaches all the kids' sports and he is THE MOST awesome coach in this world and the next.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful, heart-wrenching story. It speaks to who you are, and what you really care about - family, friends, and faith.

Always my love & support,