No Losses Greater than Holiday Losses

In the past 24 hours, I’ve learned of the deaths of two friends. One, Susan Ridley, went to church with us and was active in our homeschooling community. She was especially dear to several of our daughters as she directed their children’s choir, helped with various plays and programs, etc. She also had a couple of children who were close to them in age (as well as several who were a bit older).

The other death was of a distant cousin and schoolmate from high school. I didn’t know Mike Vandergriff all that well–just knew that we were kin somewhere down the line. He married another distant cousin of mine, Connie Baird. What I remember most about Mike was that he had a soft, somewhat gravelly voice and always had a smile on his face and was friendly to everyone. Connie was one of the students who blew the teacher’s curve, excelling at all of her studies. The two of them made a perfect pair.

Any death around the holidays, especially the Christmas holiday, seems to affect one’s loved ones even more deeply than deaths at other times. That’s not to say that any death at any other time is not hard, but the fact that a death occurs around Christmas means that the holiday will thereafter leave the survivors of the deceased with a bittersweet feeling. While everyone around them is laughing and smiling and joking and feasting in the joyous occasions of the holiday, the survivors will be mourning, even years later.

The two particular deaths in the last few hours hit close to home for me. Mike was my age; he sat behind or beside or in front of me in several classes, and we graduated together. Susan was a bit older than us but was still within my age bracket. And whenever one gets to my age, he finds, as I have, that he seems to know more people in the “with the Lord” column than he does in the weddings, births, or achievements sections of the newspaper or alumni publication.

Such Christmas-season deaths also remind me of my mother. She was killed by a drunk driver just days before Christmas. She was on her way to church that Sunday night with my father and sister, anticipating the church’s Christmas cantata in which she and Daddy sang and my sister played piano. But God had other plans for her. The “accident” changed all of our lives forever, and Christmas would never be the same for any of us again. But what a Christmas celebration Mother must have had that year!

This year, as we all go about our seasonal preparations of buying and exchanging gifts, decorating the tree and the house, sending out Christmas cards, and doing whatever your family traditions may be, let’s remember those who have suffered losses recently. Say a prayer for them, that God would be especially near and dear to them this Christmas. It will be a hard time for them. Unless you’ve experienced such a loss at such a time, you couldn’t understand just how hard. Yes, remember those who have an empty place at their table and in their hearts this Christmas. May the Lord send them a special blessing to fill that emptiness.

And if you’re in that boat yourself, turn to the One who can fill your empty spot: Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.”

[You can read more about Mother’s death and other incidents in which God provides comfort in my brother’s book Leave a Well in the Valley, available at]

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson


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