Grieving at Christmas: Weary Rejoicing

Christmas Eve 2012 found me crying quietly by candlelight as I held my baby daughter. My husband and I had just moved to Philadelphia with our 3 young children.  We were in our early 30’s and we felt disoriented. Lost. Weary. Our drive to church, like every other week’s drive, was littered with homeless and graffiti and trash blowing in the bitter wind; all evidence of a world that also seemed disoriented. Lost. Weary. Just 10 days prior, 20 children had been tragically shot in their Connecticut classrooms and this thought- this loss- is what found me weeping quietly through our candlelight Christmas Eve service. We had already experienced such heavy burdens ourselves, and the world seemed to show no promise of a lighter load, and the only thing that made sense that night of  ‘celebration’ was the refrain …a weary world rejoices.family
I imagined Mary. Young, uncomfortable, uncertain, away from home and having just delivered a baby. I felt a connection to her. Having just experienced birth myself, I could still feel the physical pain mixing with the unspeakable joy of a baby being delivered into my arms and into my world. I could still taste the tears spilling over into breathless laughter. The sudden sense of my incredible capabilities and also my terrifying weaknesses. The relief and exhaustion and confusion.

Weary and rejoicing.

Since then, O Holy Night has been the single most meaningful detail of Christmas. Any and all versions of O Holy Night bring me to tears, and it’s the one song that I am incapable of singing without getting significantly choked up.

Somehow this all makes it incredibly appropriate, then, that O Holy Night was the last song my father sang on earth (though I have no doubt he continues to sing it Elsewhere.) My father, who’s mother wrote in his baby book “Tommy seems to love music. He sits all day rocking in his chair, drumming to the songs on the radio.” My father, who started a band before he was a teen, commanding dancing, adoring crowds from behind a mic and a drum set for 50+ years until his life- or rather his heart- began to slow down and he surrendered his drum and began singing a capella, though he never looked quite as at ease to me.

At least that’s what I was thinking as I stood with my husband and children on Christmas Eve huddled around our Georgia kitchen watching a live video of him singing at his Plymouth, MA church.

 

This was a first. In his entire life as a musician, I don’t think there had ever been a time where he performed alone, without bandmates or a drum set or distractions. Just him on a stage. I found myself crying as the song ended, the lights faded, and he walked off the stage.  And I found myself thinking, “Man, if this were to be his last performance, it’s a good one to end on.”

Fifty-four days later, I would be watching this video again. At his funeral. On the very stage he stood just 8 weeks earlier to sing it. There were no dim lights this time around, but I felt just as foggy, disoriented, and weary as if it were the middle of the darkest, longest night.

My father was just coming into focus for me when he died. His life’s story was big and complicated and not entirely mine to tell. But I wanted to know it more completely and there was so much I still wanted to learn about him and from him. In fact, my New Year’s Resolution had been to begin interviewing him in order to record his perspective of our shared history.

The last time I performed publicly was actually with my dad. We sang in Italian though neither of us speak it (we just eat it, we’d joke.) Afterwards, a musician pulled me aside and said that if I didn’t pursue a career in singing it would be a waste of talent. His words came from a loving-though heavily exaggerated- appreciation for my voice, yet I never sang again. Not like that. And I’m not sure why. Kids? Life? Priorities? Weariness? I don’t really view myself as a singer as much as I do a writer. That is my voice. That is my desire- to connect with others in our common experiences and emotions and to work out my own life with the help of pen & paper. To discover more of healing and hope and happiness. I believe my dad shared a similar desire- to connect with others and to work out his own life and to discover more of healing and hope and happiness.

When I think of Christmas, I think of a little baby entering a weary world and a mother holding him with all the awe and wonder of every new mother everywhere. I think of her weariness. I think of the weary visitors who travelled to find him. I think of that baby growing into a man, fully experiencing the weariness of the world and yet not ever being crushed by it. I also think of my father, who’s heart was weary and heavy-burdened, and how he traded it for a light and happy load the moment his voice stopped singing in this world and continued without skipping a beat in the next.

I pray for all of us who find ourselves approaching Christmas with a hesitancy…a heaviness…a weariness. Music and movies and our culture seem to give us two options when it comes to the holidays: hyped up euphoria or grinch-like misery. But I’d like to suggest a third, very beautiful, very honest response: weary rejoicing.

A thrill of hope

A weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks

A new and glorious morn

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