Editor’s note: This column by the late Bev Davis originally was published Jan. 1, 2001. Davis passed away Aug. 1, 2010, of a sudden illness.
Coping with loss is never easy, but during the holidays, it becomes an overwhelming misery. I have several close friends who lost a loved one days before Christmas. The loss of a spouse or parent changes your life forever. For those of us who’ve lost both parents, life is never the same. No other relationships can replace those unique ties, and when the first strains of “Silent Night” waft over the mall loudspeaker for the first time during the season, it is the unbidden memory of those we’ve lost that come flooding back.
I’ve never been much of a sentimentalist and didn’t care too much for Christmas when I was growing up, but it’s a holiday that’s become unbearable in recent years. In 1979, my mother suffered a serious heart attack during the Christmas season. For several days, while I sat in an ICU waiting room wondering if she would pull through, twinkling Christmas lights and piped-in Christmas carols hammered my brain. She recovered, but lived only until June. To this day, I associate Christmas with her death.
By Christmas of 1992, my father was in the last days of his life. Wasted by cancer to the point he resembled an old turtle instead of a human being, he patiently endured the feeble attempts we made to celebrate that year. He finally escaped the charade of life in mid-January, 1993.
Just days before Christmas this season, I shared my own grief with a friend, and without hesitation, she pulled a small book from a shelf, opened it to a dog-eared page and commanded, “Read this.”
It was an ancient story about a woman who had lost her only child. Weeping inconsolably, she went to the Buddha and asked how she might obtain healing for her wounded spirit. The Buddha promised to help her, but asked her to undertake a strange task. She was to bring him a mustard seed from every house that had never known sorrow.
The job took much longer than she expected, and her sack quickly grew very heavy. She found people eager to share a gift with her, because they understood her sorrow and gave bountifully because of their own losses. In addition to the requested mustard seed, each family gave her a special gift, such as forbearance, acceptance, refuge or courage.
When she returned to the Buddha, he asked how she felt. “My heart is much heavier than when I left, because I had to expand it to carry the grief of others,” she told him. “What is this strange feeling I have inside?”
“Compassion,” he replied.
“Does this make me like all the others now?” she asked.
“Yes, child. You are no longer alone.”
I realized every home I visited during the Christmas season fell under the same shadow. Someone special was gone, and calling them to mind was painful. Compassion saw us all through, and fittingly so. After all, it was that divine compassion that brought us the Christ Child in the first place.