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Home for the Holidays

It happens every year: people die around Christmas. Just this past week, I have conducted two funerals and met with family members to plan two more, as their loved ones are expected to move shortly into eternity. In each case, the person was/is suffering from a long term illness and in poor health. Just to be clear, in the following comments, I’m not referring to those who die from sudden, tragic accidents, but rather to those at the end of a long, painful journey.

In my experience, people could have shuffled off the mortal coil a few months ago or a few months from now. And yet, when I speak with other pastors or funeral home directors, time and time again, I hear stories of people who pass around the holidays.

I wonder why . . .

I’ve discussed this phenomenon with my dad as well. After a few decades in the ministry, he has come to believe that, in the end, we may have some choice in timing of our death.  So often, people seem to be able to “choose” the specific time, for instance, waiting until a loved one arrives. In my grandfather’s case, he died during the only short window of his Hospice stay when he was totally alone. Who am I to speculate, but, humbly, it makes sense that someone would want to come to terms with life, in whatever way they can, before moving on.

Admittedly, this whole thing is a mystery to me, but this I can state emphatically: it is incredibly important to support those who have lost loved ones. Especially during the holidays. Too often, the church implies, by our words and attitudes, that grief should be masked, as if your loss could somehow be covered with wrapping paper and put aside until later.

In direct contradiction to our regrettable religious practices, many come face-to-face with death at this time of the year. They sit next to us in the pew or pass us in the office. They are our neighbors, relatives, and friends. Death never takes a holiday. So, we should be sensitive; we should reach out in love. But there’s something else too . . .

I wonder if this dose of reality could actually deepen our faith. Maybe we could allow ourselves to soak in a sense of eternity and transcendence, even in a month of such frivolity and materialism. Might such a sacred and holy experience of death be the one final gift that loved ones offer at the end of a life well-lived?

Could this be why people die around Christmas?

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.

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