Christmas can be such a dreamy time of year: houses and churches take on new beauty with the lights and garlands, love seems to be in the air as couples post romantic pictures, we give and receive gifts–all of this is bright and merry and beautiful.
What happens when the most wonderful time of year is crossed with suffering? With loss? How can we navigate a time of great joy when it is overshadowed by great sorrow?
The year after I graduated college, I was out to eat with some friends when I noticed several missed calls from my mom. A heavy dread set in. When I called her back, she reassured me that all was well but that I needed to meet my family at the hospital immediately. My little brother, Zech, had been in a horrible accident putting gasoline on a bonfire and sustained severe burns to his body. My heart dropped and I immediately broke down.
My little brother and I were (are) best friends. Since childhood we had always done everything together. We had such a strong bond of love. I felt a sense of powerlessness in the face of this injury. Seeing him burned, sedated, and intubated in the hospital forced me to dig into the depths of my faith when everything in me wanted to lose my mind. While the immediate diagnosis wasn’t bad–that he just needed some plastic surgery and had to remain on the ventilator for a few days–the news gradually got worse and worse.
After weeks that felt like years in the hospital, Zech’s life on this earth came to a peaceful end on Christmas Day 2017. In the years following this event, every holiday, family dinner, and tradition has been changed. Our whole family misses him. We all suffer the effects of this traumatic loss of such a loving and joy-filled person. Somehow, we take comfort in the fact that it happened on Christmas. It reminds us of why this day is such a big deal.
Jesus was born into this world to suffer and die so that suffering and death wouldn’t be the end for us. The triumph of Christmas changes our experience of life in every way. Because of Christmas, I know that I am able to see my brother again some day. Because of Christmas, we know that God knows us. He became one of us in order to teach us that suffering is an open door to salvation.
If you are experiencing immense suffering, loneliness, or loss this Christmas time, know that Christmas is your light of hope at the end of the tunnel. Jesus choosing to be born into this world means that your suffering isn’t pointless, that you can be reunited with your loved ones, and that evil, as the Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “may have its hour, but God will have His day.” This Christmas is an invitation to us. We are invited by God to join Him–in our sufferings, our pain, our loneliness, our inadequacy, our failures, and our redemption. God wants to use this, right now. Whatever “this” is for you, it’s your cross. Your cross is where He is being born this Christmas.
In loving memory of Zechariah Hardy