Ginger and Lamkins at Christmas gatheringSaint Nicholas & Grief

by Ginger Ingram Brown


As Christmas comes again, I am remembering my grief the first Christmas after Noal had gone to heaven.

A Saint?

No one is perfect, but after my husband’s death, I seemed to forget that he had any faults. Someone said, “He was so wonderful that God needed him in heaven.” They had forgotten, too.

One Sunday morning I was driving to another city to speak in a church service. In the past, I would sing and do a puppet, then leave for Children’s Church while Noal stayed to speak in the adult service. As I drove alone, wondering how to greet everyone, I thought, “If Noal were speaking he could make them laugh. But how can I lighten the occasion knowing that some of them share my grief?”

Then a little voice seemed to whisper, “He wasn’t perfect!”

“Of course not!” I reasoned. “I would never have had an occasion to be upset with him if he had been perfect! I do remember being upset with him, but for the life of me I can’t remember a single thing he ever did that was wrong!”

I smiled, wondering if this was something I could share with the people that morning. Realizing that loved ones often become saints when they die I wasn’t sure it would be wise to address this thought. The concept wasn’t totally new, having had it thrown directly at me soon after Noal’s funeral.

A man whom I had dated years before meeting Noal had called to express sympathy. He had remained single, so he invited me to have lunch. I accepted, perhaps to his dismay, because he told me as we ate that he had been warned not to date a widow. “Why?” I wondered.

“Because you have to compete with a dead saint,” he laughed.

“Your friend is right!” I agreed with a smile and continued telling him about the wonderful saint I had been married to. I was actually surprised when he called more than once, but he has since given up the competition.

That First Christmas

As I drove I thought of people who have had death thrown at them during holidays, and their sorrow was an extreme contrast to the celebrations. Personally, I had several months to anticipate this season, but nothing prepared me for the turmoil I experienced as Christmas approached. Saint Nicholas lived a long time and gets credit for being unblemished, but I’ve not met a grieving soul whose pain he has erased. So what do we do with this Saint during a time that others are joyfully getting gifts, and eagerly making plans to gather with friends? My legs felt heavy, and sometimes I just didn’t want to face the outside world. My mind kept returning to the past remembering the joy this season once held for me. Just like my mother had done for me when my daddy died at my young age of seven, I tried to be happy for her, smiling on the outside, while my heart was weeping.

My siblings each have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Instead of all of us gathering as one happy family, each sibling has developed their own traditions. I have no children, so as Christmas approached that first year, Mom and I worked out a plan to fly from Oklahoma City to Denver and celebrate with one sister’s family. The plan included me flying back, and my sister driving Mom home to Kansas afterward. Tickets were priced extremely low on Christmas night so I scheduled a late flight back, alone.

I well remembered that it was not easy to leave Mom knowing that she, too, was grieving. We both had agreed earlier that this plan was good, but I had great regrets as I waved goodbye and found my seat. Just after takeoff I suddenly realized that I would be getting in after midnight, and Noal would not be picking me up at the airport, as he had done so many times. I had been so busy helping my mom that I hadn’t realized this before. I was sad but in that short flight, my greatest emotion was fear. I would have to find my car in long-term parking and I was alone.

Questions stalked me! “Who might see that I’m alone and follow me from the baggage claim?” “Who will be hiding in the parking lot to grab me?”

I’m not normally a fearful person, but I prayed most of the way to Oklahoma City for Peace on Earth, especially in the parking lot. There were few people on the plane and the airport seemed very quiet. After all, not many leave the family on Christmas night.

God’s Answer

When I had gathered my baggage and boarded the correct shuttle, I hoped it would not just be the driver and me alone. “What kind of person would be driving a shuttle on Christmas night?” my fears taunted.

At the last moment, a man joined us. After unloading his bags he greeted me and said, “You are a ventriloquist, aren’t you?” Surprised, I quickly admitted that I am, asking how he knew. He remembered my being at his church several years earlier. He was returning from a mission trip and we discovered we had mutual friends. The driver interrupted our conversation to ask where our cars were parked. They were parked on the same lane, his on one side, mine on the other. We got off, exchanged holiday greetings, loaded bags into our vehicles, and drove away.

I smiled, feeling safe, and knowing that Someone was taking care of me. Surely God had opened up those two parking spots at just the right moment several days before. Suddenly, driving down I-44, I was overwhelmed with the thought that this same God understood my loneliness. After all, He had sent His only son into the world. And wasn’t that the first time He and His son were separated? “As the Angels and Shepherds rejoiced, God must have cried!” I thought.

Easter Is Coming!

My mind ran on ahead to Easter because “the rest of the story” just couldn’t wait. The Father and Son were reunited when Jesus was resurrected from the grave! The promise that someday I, too, will be reunited with Noal was becoming more real. The pain of being separated from him did not leave, but this “hope” was the spark that helped me through the season. And it carried on so I could speak to others.

Now, arriving at churches, I was ready to speak without tears. They laughed with me remembering Noal, the fun-loving person who would want us to continue living with his laughter. I admitted that he wasn’t perfect, but for the life of me, I really couldn’t remember any of his faults. And, he wasn’t a “dead saint”! He was making heaven so much more real to us, just as he had made the earth a better place for many.

I don’t anticipate being remembered as a saint. But, frankly, I do hope that people will forget my faults, always celebrating the One who gave His Son so that we can be forgiven and reunited in Heaven. And this Easter I will remember that while others cried, God rejoiced that first resurrection day when He was reunited with His Son in Heaven. I will and do rejoice, too, because the resurrection of His Son, Jesus, gives us His promise of eternal life.