Grief in the Season of Christmas

I LOVE celebrating the birth of Jesus the entire month of December!

I remember a Christmas past when I could not celebrate. My heart was just not in it…the first Christmas after our daughter, Megan died. I just lay on the couch while my husband, Gary (because men have to ‘do something’ physically with their grief) assembled our Christmas tree with the help of our surviving children: Kristen 8, Jeremy 6, and Luke 4,  put on the ornaments. It was all I could do to open the little boxes and distribute them to the kids. 

Many things went by the wayside that year. I just had so little energy and no enthusiasm for any of it. Everyone was celebrating the birth of a baby and MY BABY had died just 7 months prior...

May 21, 1989, spring was in the air. The windows were open and kids were playing. Little did I know it was the beginning of a very bad no good day! 

For the first time since the birth of our fourth child, I was going to get to accompany Gary on a speaking engagement to Arkansas to share the Sunday message at a church where two of our favorite college friends pastored. 

First of all our refrigerator was broken so I had a repairman out. But worse, Megan, our 21-month-old baby girl was running a fever. I took her to the doctor that morning and he diagnosed an ear infection. It wasn’t like Megan to be whiny and fussy. She just wasn’t her delightful, spunky self. With two boys and a girl, I was overjoyed when she was born to even things out by adding another girl to our family! She was ‘the icing on the cake’ in so many ways! She was a sister to Kristen and a fun teasing little playmate to Luke and Jeremy. She had a way of bringing joy to our family! Finally, I relaxed enough to actually ENJOY a baby!

I called our good friend, Connie who had been prepared to care for our kids while I escaped for a couple of days and told her thatI wouldn’t be needing her after all. Megan continued to be fussy all afternoon. So whiny it seemed something else must be wrong. So in the early evening, I called the doctor again. He wasn’t very helpful, telling me that it was an ear infection and that it would ‘just have to run its course.’ 

I had given medicine as instructed by the doctor. We had cuddled and rocked for an hour. So I surrendered her to her crib still whimpering a bit. I did have three other children to attend. Gary called after making the long drive to Arkansas (no cell phones in 1989) and I asked him for a phone number there at our friends’ house in case I needed to reach him. The rest of the evening was uneventful with the normal routine of tucking kids into bed. Afterwards I had peeked into Megan’s room to see her lying still in her crib. I approached her quietly, laying my hand on her forehead to find it cool to my touch. Satisfied that her fever had broken, I left her room relieved and retired myself to bed. 

Sunday morning dawned. Church Day. My children’s favorite day of the week! We pastored a small but growing church plant comprised 90% of couples, like us, in their 20’s with 2-4 children so there were lots of playmates! A dear friend stopped by to check on me and chat on her way to Pioneer Trail Junior High which housed Indian Creek Community Church on Sundays. We visited and she left. 

The pouring rain pounded on the windowsills. Kristen, Jeremy, and Luke were dressed and ready to go and I was trying to figure out if I dare to drop them off at church and bring Megan back home since she was sick. But she was ‘sleeping’ uncharacteristically late. I decided I had waited long enough. So I went into the room to see her lying exactly as when I had checked on her the night before. Unusual. As I came close to the crib I noticed the black and blue blotches on her little arms and chubby legs! When my fingers encountered her little body it was ice cold to the touch! I scooped her up into my arms, running at the same time to the living room for the portable house phone to call 911 and Gary. Kristen and Jeremy wondered aloud, why Megan had ‘colored all over herself with black and blue markers.’ 

I called 911 as I was running to my next-door neighbors’ cradling Megan’s lifeless body. I will never forget their stunned helpless expressions. I called Gary next and told him that Megan was dead. He couldn’t really comprehend it. Thinking I was exaggerating her condition or maybe he was just in denial and disbelief, he was still on the phone when the paramedics arrived and I abandoned him and the phone. With one look at their faces, I knew that there was nothing they could do for my precious baby! They were very kind and compassionate. They loaded us into the ambulance. My neighbors stayed with Kristen, Jeremy, and Luke.

A no-good, very bad day! That became a no-good very bad summer, fall, and winter… I quit my job of caring for other children, took the kids and went to Kentucky where my parents, brother & 2 of my 3 sisters live, and stayed through the month of June. 

That first Christmas my heart was not in any of it. I just went through the motions that entire first year..
— Belinda Kendall

When we returned, our house had been transformed! Not only was it spotlessly cleaned, every room inside had a fresh coat of paint as did the outside! A spacious new back deck had been constructed! Little ‘special treats’ adorned the rooms, like embroidered pillows and plaques! All of the windows had been washed! My neighbors told me that every evening while we were gone, people from Indian Creek descended upon our home and worked out their grief. Megan was their baby too! And as they lovingly served us, they talked, comforted and consoled one another! That body of believers walked with us, not just through those days that month but the months and years to come! Until we were, in turn, comforting others as we had been comforted. 

That first Christmas my heart was not in any of it. I just went through the motions that entire first year....

The SECOND year came and the pain was intensified because the numbness had worn off and reality had set in – We would not see our Megan grow up, go to school, get married...we would not see her again until Heaven! And sometimes I wanted to go there just to be with her!

By the THIRD Christmas I was still trying to decide what I really wanted to do or not to commemorate and celebrate the birth of Jesus and to remember my baby who was now enjoying His presence! Nothing ever really seemed 'good enough.'

For those in the throes of grief, my heart goes out to you and yours! Remember there is NO RUSH on your healing heart...keep processing. Keep open. Consider NOT doing the things that drain you and don't really celebrate the real reason for the season anyway. You really DON’T HAVE TO!

Now years later I LOVE the picture of my baby being WITH JESUS and picture Megan running into my arms when I arrive in Heaven! Christmas season has been enhanced for me and has more meaning because of His BIRTH she could die here but LIVE there! And so can you and I. 

Merry Christmas!

-Belinda Kendall