I remember once trying to explain dawn and dusk to my son. He could not grasp that it was not daytime, but also not night. The sun had not yet fully set, but the stars were already visible in the sky; and in the morning, the sun was beginning to rise over the horizon, but he could still see the moon. Was it daytime? Or was it night? His world was divided neatly into categories of day and night, and this time of light and dark coexisting confused him. Searching for words he could understand, I told him that this is the “in between time.” It is the time where we have one foot in the day and the other in the night.
Grief is a time of feeling caught in between. Following a loss, the world no longer fits into neat categories of light and dark, chaos and order. Everything we thought we knew is turned on its head as the person we always imagined would be there is suddenly not. We struggle to find some sense of “normal” all the while knowing that nothing will ever be “normal” again since the world seems to fall to pieces every time we are reminded of what we have lost. This sense of things falling apart seems to be augmented as we approach the holidays. The holidays, we are told, is a time of joy and light and festivity, but, for those trapped in the in-between time of grief, the thought of going through the heirloom ornaments and setting the table for Christmas dinner does not bring forth images of light and merriment. Instead, they are simply more painful reminders of what and who is conspicuously absent.
Advent is also a season where we exist in between, and the tone in many ways mirrors that of grief. Derived from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming,” it moves us into a new year in the life of the church. But rather than moving straight from Christ the King coming in glory to the joy of the anticipated Christ child’s birth, as our culture might have us do, we enter into a period of waiting, restlessness of longing. In many modern churches, the color of Advent is blue. Blue is a color traditionally associated with sadness. Elvis croons about having a Blue Christmas and, when we’re down or depressed, we’re “feeling blue.” But the blue of the season of Advent carries with it countercultural tones, challenging us to see this color, and this time of darkness, in a different way. Blue in Advent takes on a second meaning. As Diana Butler Bass notes:
Blue candles symbolize the color of the sky right before dawn, that time when the deepest dark is just infused with hints of light. Blue holds the promise that the sun will rise, and even after the bleakest, coldest, longest night, the light will break forth as the new day arrives. Blue may be the color of sadness, but blue is also the color of hope.
Advent and grief are both countercultural. They challenge the accepted norm that this is a time reserved for light and merriment. Instead, we are given a new narrative where the in between is not a place to be feared or avoided, but a place to dwell, where light and dark can and do coexist, where blue can represent both sadness and hope, and where the word “rejoice” is sung in a minor key. It is not in the midst of neat categories but in the midst of this interplay of light and dark that we are given the promise of Emmanuel – God with us – coming into the world, into that space in between, as the blue of our grief gives way to the blue signaling the dawn of a new day.
If you are entering into this Advent season heavy with the weight of grief, here are some tips and things to remember:
- Things will be different. Have conversations with those you will be with about what this will mean. Be honest about your feelings and how much you do or do not want to do.
- Recognize that you can decide which traditions to continue and which, possibly just for now, will be too painful, decorating included. If you feel inclined, you can even start a new tradition.
- Find ways to incorporate your loved one. You can light a candle in your home that represents them, have a time of sharing memories, etc. Say their name. Talk openly about them.
- Participate as much or as little as you’d like. You have no obligation to attend as many parties or send your yearly Christmas card or letter. Likewise, give yourself permission to leave a celebration if it simply becomes too much.
- Identify people who are good listeners with whom you feel comfortable talking about your feelings as you may need their support even more.
- Consider attending a support group. It can be helpful to talk to other people who are also struggling to redefine the holiday season.
- Give yourself grace. Grief changes every aspect of our lives. It is emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting, and it takes time to find a new sense of normal as you find yourself in that place in-between.
 Butler Bass, D. (2016, November 25th). Forget red and green: Make it a blue holiday instead. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/25/forget-red-and-green-make-it-a-blue-holiday-instead/?utm_term=.51b666867681.