Christmas is supposed to be a time of celebration of the Savior’s birth. For many, however, it can be a time of depression and sadness. My wife likes to go to Festival of Trees every year to view the decorations, and even donated a tree last year. Money raised from the festival goes to Primary Children’s Hospital to support families in need. I wouldn’t choose to go, but I go because my wife likes to go. You will see trees dedicated to the Miami Dolphins, Star Wars, Legos, BYU, Utah, and many other themes people enjoy. Of course, I enjoy these kinds of trees.
Many families decorate a tree in memory of a loved one. My wife pointed at a name, Kiplyn Davis, and asked if that name was familiar to me. “Yes,” I replied, “I think she was murdered.” A quick Google search confirmed my memory was correct. There are trees dedicated to cancer victims, infants who died young, and lots of other family members who we all wish were still here. I’m glad people choose to make trees in memory of a loved one, but honestly it makes me sad to see photos of these loved ones who have passed on. I miss my brother (car crash) and sister (brain tumor) whom I haven’t celebrated Christmas with in 18 and 10 years.
A friend told me a heartbreaking story and has given me permission to share it.
My dad was raised in a broken home. His mother was institutionalized for a mental disorder while he was a young child, and he was raised by an older sister. When he was about 16 years old, he saved up his money to buy a special Christmas present for his sister. As he entered the house, he discovered that she was in the middle of a suicide attempt. Apparently she had decided to end her life, had hoped to put on a nice dress for her funeral (so as not to put anyone out) and swallowed rat poison. She didn’t know that it would make her violently ill, and she vomited everywhere. She was in the middle of changing into the nice funeral dress and did not finish dressing when he discovered his dying sister in an awful scene. She died 3 days before Christmas.
While we were young children, my father did a good job of hiding his pain at Christmas. Christmas was fun and we celebrated. But when we were teenagers, he no longer hid his decades of pain or depression. We never knew whether dad would be in a good mood or upset. I began to hate Christmas Day especially. I still don’t like to spend Christmas with my parents, because even though I have children of my own, I just have no idea how he will handle the day. So we stay away. We have had some good Christmases, but he’s ruined many, and I just don’t want to take the chance any more. It’s literally like playing Russian Roulette. It’s not worth the risk.
I know some people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which seems to be related with lack of exposure to the sun in the winter. I do wonder if this father suffered from it. It also seems like there are often tragedies at Christmas. About a decade ago, a drunk driver killed a large family, but the surviving man forgave him. It inspired a film, Just Let Go, based on the incident. Back in 2012, I discussed Holiday Violence, in which 3 high profile murders occurred in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Christmas can be a very stressful time of year, and isn’t much fun for many. I am reminded of the haunting words to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day in verse 3:
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Literally while writing this post, my son just asked if I heard about the road rage incident that happened tonight here in Utah. Two people were killed (a woman and the killer). Verse 3 seems so appropriate for many who despair during this holiday season. I also remember a tragedy last month in which a Utah woman died hours after giving birth to healthy twins. (It was her first pregnancy and she did in vitro to get pregnant.) I can’t imagine how difficult this Christmas will be for her family. It just seems that verse 5 is wishful thinking sometimes.
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
Sometimes it seems the wrong prevail, and the right fail. It is times like this when I think of Mosiah 8:9. I “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” though my heart aches at this time when we are supposed to be filled with joy. What can we do for those struggling during this happy holiday season? Do you have some stories to share of bringing joy to the sad during the holiday season?