In just a few days, Christmas Day will once again roll around. It’s perhaps the day that brings the most happiness for all, but for some it’s a day that elicits sadness and loneliness. Those feelings are never more stinging than that first Christmas when a loved one is no longer there.
More than fifty years ago, my brothers, mother, and I agonized for more than a year as Daddy struggled with his health. For months he was treated for allergies, as our family doctor and then a specialist misdiagnosed his ailment. The following April, another doctor visited his hospital room, looked at him, and announced that he suffered from lung cancer. The disease proved terminal, and Daddy died the last day August, which happened to be the first day of school.
That first Christmas was smothered with feelings of loss and loneliness. Jim and I got new bicycles, but they did little to bring much joy. In every direction we turned and every thought we held, our dads absences screamed at us. Only because extended family came on that day to share dinner did we manage to survive the day.
In 1996, Mother gave us an almost year-long battle with the same disease. She died in June. We boys, our wives, and children, met at her house on Christmas morning to exchange gifts. It was another dark time for us. We went through the motions of the season that day, mostly to make Christmas enjoyable for the younger ones, but they, too, dealt with their own feelings of loss and loneliness.
The death of my older brother brought another dose of pain. His battle lung cancer officially began on Labor Day and ended only a few days into the following January. Jim and I didn’t have Christmas with Dal that last year because he was too sick to travel from Nashville. We knew where things would end, and that crushed Christmas. The following year, Dal’s wife Brenda and her young’uns stayed at home. We celebrated with our families amid bouts of loneliness and loss.
This year, Amy and I traveled to Cookeville to spend a day with some of her West relatives. Michael and Janice hosted of large crowd of relatives, and they exchanged gifts. Amy and I always go so that we stay in touch with folks that we love. The West children, now all closing in on senior citizen status, lost their mother Nellie only a couple of months ago. This year’s celebration was filled with plenty of laughter and fun, but the West kids, their children, and Amy and I felt the ache of Nellie’s presence.
All of us will experience this same loss of a loved one and will grieve a bit more on that first Christmas that a mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin is absent. What makes the day all the more difficult is that the roller coaster of emotions takes us through the love of those who are there to the lows of gut-wrenching sadness of the absences of that loved one. Yes, we manage to get through, but the pain and loss is sometimes unbearable.
What all of us must remember is that Christmas is the celebration of the coming of a savior. Because he came, all of us are free from the chains of death. At the end of this life, our spirits will be reunited with all those whom we have missed. Let’s celebrate the lives our loved ones and rest assured that they are alive in the arms of the very person whose birthday we love to recognize.

Merry Christmas!


For most of our younger years, we are required to remember things. Children wonder if enough room exists in their heads to store all of this stuff. Of course, our super-computers manage to process the information and keep it for the rest of our lives.
Many of us memorized things at church. We learned to put our hands together and then to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Before long, that recitation was one way we could participate in “big church” since no such thing as children’s church existed back then. Unfortunately, we sometimes uttered the words without thinking about their meanings.
 We also plugged away at the “23rd Psalm.” Some parts were scary, such as “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Still, we finally “got” all the words, and over the years, the psalm has comforted us in difficult times.  
In big church, we doodled on bulletins as the grown-ups recited such things as the Apostles’ Creed. Even without knowing it, our brains were absorbing those words, and much to our surprise, we could regurgitate them.  Never mind the fact that we understood none of it. For years, I wondered why we professed belief it the Catholic Church and didn’t get at all “the commune of saints.”
In school, we students were bombarded with things to memorize. Math teachers stood over us like taskmasters and demanded we learn our multiplication tables. We also had to keep straight the
functions of division. In high school, teachers demanded that we memorize theorems to apply to geometry. I managed to master multiplication and even division, but algebra and geometry baffled me. I certainly didn’t understand how a letter from the alphabet could, in any way, hold numerical value. I still don’t get it.
English was no less demanding. I remember committing to memory long lists of conjugated irregular verbs, “er” and “est” rules, and pronoun cases. I understood those things much better. In fact, by the time I’d finished 8th grade, the only new things I added to my grammar knowledge covered  were gerund, infinitives, and participial phrases. Sadly, too many folks didn’t learn these rules because they say such things as “I seen you yesterday” or “I done my work in class.”
 I also caught on to spelling rules, such as “i” before “e” except after “c” or when with they sound like a long “a” in “neighbor” or “sleigh.” What always made things difficult were the exceptions to the rules. They defied logic.
At home, we also learned many things. We recited our addresses and phone numbers before ever attending school. Another must was saying “please and thank you.” Moms reminded us nightly to take baths, use soap, and wash our ears. At the supper table, we grabbed a spoon and made ready to shovel in the food. However, parents corrected us and demanded that we hold utensils properly. Today, my mother would have a hissy fit to see so many incorrectly holding a fork or spoon.
As adults, we reach a tipping point of memorizing and learning. We concentrate on things that help make us successful in our jobs. Luckily, we have those things our parents taught to pass along to our children. At least that makes a small part of life a little easier.
As we get a bit older, learning takes a backseat to forgetting. I struggle to remember where I’ve placed my wallet or keys if they aren’t in the normal places. I fail to recall the reason I walk into the room. When the kids come home, I call roll instead of speaking the one name I need.

Our minds are amazing things. We can fill them for a lifetime and never need an external hard drive for overflow knowledge. On too many occasions, we fail to learn the things we need for success in areas. On other occasions, we fill our minds with too much useless information, things that won’t make much difference in 50 years. Still, I believe that memorizing some things and learning some other important lessons are worthy pursuits.