I attended my first carol service last night in a tiny but vibrant neighborhood church (one that actually posts service times and follows them).
To remind me that I am in England, the service contained slapstick humor (in the tradition of Christmas pantomimes?) such as the vicar dressing up as the Health and Safety Elf and pooh-poohing each announced song. He was eventually “booted” by “two strong men” requested by the worship leader/emcee.
Everyone wearing a Christmas jumper was asked to stand, and one woman received special mention because hers had flashing lights. The children sang two songs. Three of the boys wore shirts saying, “Santa, define good.”
A few of the children attempted (very badly) to play The First Noel with children’s handbells (easier and cheaper versions of real handbells). I love children and love children’s efforts to learn music, but every note made me cringe. If kids can sing a song properly (and one is a talented singer who had a solo last week), they can ring handbells properly. The Sunday School teacher in me wanted to rush over and correct their teacher’s handling of the song. 🙂
We sang several Christmas hymns. All of the verses. I closed my eyes and swayed a bit, feeling my dad standing next to me with his handkerchiefs, cough drops, mints, ridiculously bad jokes, and comments before and after the service. He knew all of the verses to all of the Christmas hymns because he’d grown up singing them.
I had to stop singing several times because I couldn’t sing without crying. Not because I was sad, but because my dad’s presence and the experience of worshipping in a foreign land (but still to the same God) overwhelmed me. Ever since my dad died, I can’t say the Lord’s Prayer (“Our father who art in heaven”) without getting teary.
I stopped myself from crying not for my own sake (although it is annoying to wipe tears away), but because I was surrounded by unfamiliar people. If I saw a new person come to my church and cry, I would worry. Ask what was wrong. Try to help. It’s the decent thing to do, right?
But for me, tears are the annoying side effect of feeling my dad near me.
I wish we had a small, symbolic return to mourning apparel. Maybe a button or bracelet I could hold up to say, “I’ve lost a loved one within the past year, and this is my first holiday season without him. If I’m crying, don’t freak out. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for me, and I may be absolutely fine even if I start sobbing.”
Tears are cleansing.
Feeling my dad next to me (closer to me than when he was alive, as we were separated by thousands of miles) is comforting.
Being in a foreign land with the same language but customs and culture just enough different from the US (to serve as a distraction) has allowed me to approach the holiday season as a forever student of everything. What words do people use here? How is this done? What is this like? What’s a selection box?
Underneath it all, I understand that I’ve lost my dad. I know he’s still dead and will always be dead. I know there are complications with family that will never fully be resolved.
But a tiny bit of me is starting to hope.
There may be changes and a new path for my life ahead. Maybe this journey since my dad died has actually been leading me toward something good, rather than just taking away what (and who) I loved.
This past year, I lost almost everything I valued. I’ve learned to hold onto the bits of good in my life, and I’ve discovered who and what really matter.
I don’t know what’s next in my life, but I feel like I’m holding my dad’s hand. That he’s got an arm around my shoulder and a twinkle in his eye, leading me forward.
Maybe we need to lose everything we thought was important to find out what we need.
I need to discover my true purpose in life.
And I need to love and be loved.
Beyond that, aren’t all the details insignificant?
Blessings to all of you this holiday season, especially those who are grieving lost loved ones.