It's usually a hard day for me and I never know how it will hit me. Sometimes I just experience a general sense of unrest, while at other times that bitter sword of grief reminds me that time means nothing and it was only yesterday that I stood at Dad's casket, looking upon him for the very last time this side of the veil.
Even though my parents had been divorced for many many years, for some reason I dreaded Christmas that year with a strange sense of horror. We wouldn't talk to Dad on the phone. We couldn't buy Dad gifts. Nothing was coming from Dad - no cards with his familiar handwriting.
It was Christmas...without Dad.
I couldn't bear to be around my family, for his absence was even more absent, and because I hadn't seen him at all since my high school graduation, about 3 1/2 years prior, my guilt just ate away at me, burrowing into my soul and penetrating even more deeply than the strongest concentration of acid found on earth.
I had graduated early and was working for the college that winter, so I made sure I was on the Christmas schedule. Prior to Christmas I had gone home, celebrated "Christmas", stayed overnight and then headed back to the school. It wasn't that I really wanted to be alone...I just didn't want to be around family.
Then again, I DID want to be alone because when I was with them, I felt even more alone; Dad's loss was that much more painful, and I couldn't handle it.
It was so painful it was like a burn; it left my nerves deadened; I was numb. It was a grief so deep I could not express it to anyone, not even to myself. So I fled civilization for the haven of the school from which I had graduated and I enclosed myself into the darkness of my grief, trying to understand.
On that Christmas Eve, I couldn't even stand the very room I was in. No one was at the college; no one was anywhere. The dorms were abandoned, the bluffs were silent.
And it was into the bluffs I fled, under the Christmas Eve stars, into the shadows of the trees and the confinement of the snowy creek banks.
I just walked, alone in that darkness, tramping through the snow, wishing I could cry, wanting to scream, wanting only relief from this terrible, terrible pain. I wondered if I was depressed? I considered that seriously, but no...I knew what depression was, I had all the symptoms indexed in my mind for professionally I had worked with truly depressed people. No; I was far too functional to be depressed. Dysthymia? Nope...not that either.
Intellectually, I knew that this was grief, I knew I was not handling it well, and whenever I confronted myself with that reality I shoved it aside in favor of wallowing within the pain, wanting to understand it, needing to purge myself of it, but not wanting to go to anyone else for help to do it. I was far too independent for my own good.
But I didn't care; I just wanted to be alone. Alone with God, seeking my faith again, seeking the God I had grown up knowing. And yet I didn't know Him.
So that night as I walked, I spoke to God. I berated him for this pain, I berated him for taking my Dad away from me, and I cried out to him about my own guilt.
I remember sitting in the snow at the side of the creek, suddenly realizing that I felt completely alone; completely abandoned.
In the middle of the cold winter wildnerness, surrounded by the frozen forest, unable to even hear the waters gurgling under the ice and snow.
I was numb; I was abandoned. I cried out to God, but He did not answer me, nothing was revealed. Nothing was changed, nothing purged, nothing healed.
I realized that I had gone out to seek God because the futility of my own actions had so far gotten me nowhwere. And yet I was still rejecting the Church which had always been my solace before. Even as I sought God, I was running away from Him.
I remember that terrible, terrible numbness; not just from physical cold, but this strange spiritual numbness; Abandonment.
I remember a couple of tears fell...and froze on my cheeks.
Frozen just as I was inside.
Slowly, I stepped out on the ice, knowing where the little waterfall was. I knew I was being stupid for there was no one to hear my screams. I was not suicidal; far from it! Yet I almost hoped I would fall through a weak spot in the ice, to be partially submerged; water ran under that ice all winter. Even the harsh Minnesota winters would not completely freeze that rushing stream.
I didn't want to die; I only wanted to shock myself into feeling something again. Anything other than this terrible interior pain. Anything other than this hopeless feeling of complete and utter desolation;
But the ice didn't crack. Even it was silent, refusing to give me the relief I so desperately craved.
I walked back to my room, to the warmth, still numb, still alone within my pain, still bereft of God.
Desperate for God, I tried to go to Christmas Mass the next day, the first time in a long time. Oddly, I couldn't find one! Even though it was a Catholic college, the chapel was closed and I had to find my way to a Catholic Church in town. I sincerely tried, but I must have gone at the wrong time. I couldn't even find anyone to call to answer my questions as to WHEN I could go!
I knew of one church and thought maybe if I just showed up, even if it was in the middle of Mass, I would wait there for the next one, or find out when to go. That frigid, subzero day when my car would barely run, I found nothing but a Catholic Church with large, locked doors.
No one was around. It was only 10 in the morning but I couldn't get in and everyone was gone. The Church was empty, and it was locked and I had nowhere else to go.
Even when I finally went to find God, the door was closed and locked, sealing my complete and utter abandonment. Even when I sought Him out, He wasn't there. I'd lost my earthly Father, and that Christmas, I lost my Eternal Father as well.
I can't remember how I got through that terrible phase in my life. Probably just fell into the routine of work, but I do know that the terrible sensation did finally ease. I do know that over time, the grief ebbed, leaving mostly only the anger...and finally, acceptance.
Grief is still painful and sometimes catches me by surprise with its razor-sharp edges, yet never since that Christmas Eve have I ever felt that terrible, terrible abandonment.
In looking back, now I see a blessing; a spiritual purging I did not understand. I chose the separation, and now I look back and realize that it could be a shadow of what is to come. God was right there with me the entire time, likely crying the tears I could not, likely closer to me than He ever has been before or since.
It is in our abandonment, the Saints have learned and taught in their wisdom, that God is closer than ever, and we can't find Him or see Him because He is holding us so closely we are blinded by His love and compassion.
Even in the snowy, frozen bluffs of a cold Minnesota Christmas, God is there, and sometimes, when it seems like He isn't answering, it is because He is speaking so softly that it takes years to understand His words.
Author's Note: A year ago I published, in three parts, the story I wrote about my Dad and his death. The first chapter can be found here, and the other chapters are linked in sequence. Otherwise click on the tag "Dad" below and you will be taken to all posts pertaining to this topic.