Faithfully Yours - A Christmas to remember


Neil Strohschein
Neepawa Banner & Press

I will never forget the Christmas of 2012. It was hard enough for me. But it was twice as hard for my wife and her family; because it was the last Christmas we would spend with her mom, Mary. The day began with one of the greatest displays of courage I have ever witnessed. We did not know it then, but Mary had less than a month to live. She had fought a 20-month battle with breast cancer—a battle we thought she had won.

But shortly after she completed her first round of surgery and follow-up treatments, the cancer returned and spread quickly through her body.

Mary was determined to celebrate one last Christmas with her family. Although the day was cold and miserable, she enjoyed coffee and a visit at the home of close friends. We had our family gift exchange at her apartment, then joined other family members for Christmas dinner. That night, she was taken to hospital and died three weeks later.

To this day, I will never know how Mary got through that day. Her courage and tenacity remain deeply embedded in my mind; and I see them relived every day in the life of her daughter. My in-laws are a feisty bunch. They battle sickness, family crises and other challenges with a fierce determination few others exhibit—and most of the time, they come out on top.

But there are some battles they don’t win; and Mary’s battle with an aggressive form of cancer was one of them. Her death came almost 15 years to the day after the death of my father, who also died from cancer (leukemia). His battle lasted seven years but in the end, the disease won.

So I have a deep affinity for those whose Christmas celebrations won’t be as jovial as they might have been 20 years ago. Memories of loved ones who died so close to Christmas—even if they are happy memories—can, and often do put a damper on our celebrations.

I have no magic words that will ease the pain you may be feeling right now. I know there are times when you will feel lonely and alone; even though you may be surrounded by family and friends who love you, care deeply for you and have been with you since the death of your loved one. There’s nothing wrong with those feelings. Everyone has them. They are part of the process we go through when we adjust to a loved one’s death.

I would, however, offer these words of encouragement. The New Creed of the United Church of Canada begins with these words: “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.” It ends with these: “In life, in death and in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.”

When loved ones die, we take that part of them for which they no longer have any need and we return it to the earth from which it came. But we release their spirits into the hands of God; trusting that he has welcomed them into his presence and that he will be with them and with us until we meet again. And in those quiet times, when no one is around and the tears seem to flow more easily, we can take courage in knowing that we are surrounded by God’s love and that he is always close at hand, watching over us, caring for us and keeping us safe from harm.

May you who mourn feel that love around you this Christmas.