A Gift of a Different Kind: Choosing to See

Dec 12, 2012

I want to hide myself in Christmas. Really I do. I want to sip cocoa, wrap presents, make cookies, and play in the snow.

But I can’t. Not today. Today I keep bumping into many who aren’t singing carols and skipping in the snow this Christmas. I don’t want to be mood killer, and I certainly don’t want you to leave here blue. But I can’t—won’t—ignore them.

Last night, one of my parents’ dear friends died from a short but overwhelming fight against cancer. I hate cancer. Hate. It. Honestly, I can’t wait for the day God kicks its sorry you-know-what from the face of the earth. That will be cause for some serious Christmas joy. Until then, my heart breaks for this family who lost someone special just two weeks before Christmas Day.

I’ve never met her, never corresponded with her. But I follow author Diann Hunt’s journey online. For nearly three years she’s been fighting for her life, with countless medical procedures and truckloads of joy. Seriously, she might be the most positive person I’ve (never) met. Every time I read her blog or a Facebook post, I find new courage and strength. Still, last week she received tough news: scar tissue has permanently blocked her stomach. Meaning: the only goodies she’ll be eating this holiday will be dripping through an I.V.

Monday, one of my dear friends gave birth to her fourth child, the first girl in a houseful of boys. But Campbell was born with Apert Syndrome, a genetic disease characterized by malformations of the skull, face, hands, and feet. She entered the world alive and fighting, and for that we give thanks. But joy is tempered by the truth: this sweet girl’s life will be anything but easy, and the family she joins is forever changed.

Eventually I’ll get back to my Christmas-y spirit. Thanksgiving for what is must trump the grief over what is not. Life, even with all it’s complexity, is still good.

But sometimes Christmas isn’t a Hallmark commercial. And today I’m aching with those who ache. Those who miss someone they love. Those who are sick, in pain, or afraid of the future. Those without a home, a job, a spouse, or a way out.

In my feeble way, I want to honor those who cry this Christmas. I want say “I see you”  instead of ignoring them in my pursuit of holiday cheer. That is part of the Christmas-y spirit, too. If you want to do the same, here are a few ways to do exactly that:

  • Start by ASKING: What do you need most today? Then, if it’s within your ability, do it.
  • A hand-written letter. Author and friend, Margaret Terry, showed me the power of a heart-felt letter in her book Dear Deb. (Thank you, Margaret)
  • Time. I know, I know. We’re all so busy. But choosing to sit with someone who suffers is always time well spent. Even if the Christmas shopping doesn’t get done.
  • A phone call. If she doesn’t answer, leave a message. Don’t expect a return call. And don’t try to fix her grief with deep profundity. Simply say, “I’m with you.” My voice mail is filled with saved messages from key people at just the right time.
  • Laughter. When I went through a major surgery right before Christmas, I needed a diversion. And laughter. I told my family to get me any movie that would make me laugh. They did, and then they watched (and laughed) with me.
  • A Meal. Don’t underestimate the value of a hot meal. Even for those who can’t eat this Christmas, knowing their family is taken care of is a gift. For the single moms and dads who can barely keep up, a ready-to-go dinner will be the perfect Christmas gift.
  • Two hands. My friend, Sarah, walked through final days with a few terminal friends. As I watched her, the practicality of her compassion moved me deeply. She organized pictures into memory books for one woman’s children. For another, she transcribed letters and helped plan the funeral service. For another, she listened to the woman’s stories and recorded them. In short, by offering her hands, she helped each one live—and finish—well. (Sarah, you inspire me.)
  • A Prayer Blanket. Buy a super-soft, plush blanket. Then spend a week or two praying over that blanket. Carry it with you, praying for the person you ache with. Then, offer it to her as a constant, tangible reminder of your prayer and presence. Imagine how good that feels wrapped around the shoulders!

Christmas is a time of joy. But it can also be a time of grief. Let’s not miss sharing both with each other this season.

What are some other ways we can care for those who hurt this Christmas?



  1. Denise

    A beautiful and timely post, Michele. Cancer, death and pain don’t discriminate and the holidays are not exempt from the presence of these difficult challenges. Thank you for writing about a topic many of us deal with, but are often discouraged from addressing.

    • Michele

      Thank you, Denise. Hope you have a beautiful Christmas.

  2. Robbie Iobst

    Wow. Beautiful and so true. You have wisdom, my friend and such a huge compassionate heart. I continually seek to get over the burden of self I keep picking up. You inspire me to put it down and look around. And extend a hand. Thank you.

  3. Christy

    Michelle, you are a wise, transparent soul. Thanks so much for taking the time and digging deep (as I’m sure you do) to share truth with us. Blessings to you and yours. And thank you.


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