Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Christmas Wears a Black Wreath

Until about 40 years ago, when a family experienced a death, they hung a black wreath on the door.  It was message to the world you had lost a loved one, and many cases the deceased was being held "in state" inside. Seeing the wreath on the door of a loved one announced this was the place to pay your respects. It also meant, we are grieving, please give us some time.

It also warned away the frivolous and nuisance calls made to the home.  In those days, salesmen and solicitors of all types knew what the wreath meant.  In most of the world, the practice has been forgotten and I dare say, a wreath on todays door will deter no one.

But I remember wanting a black wreath on my door when my mom died.  She died just 11 days after I had a serious surgery.  I had gone to the hospital for a scheduled surgery but fearful she would die while I was in surgery...she was that close to death.  The day she died was the first day after surgery that I awoke and said "I don't think this is going to kill me".  It was the first day I believed I could survive.  My first thought was to ride out to see my mother.  I did.  She died later that same evening, while all her daughters were under her roof together.

I came home that night and wished I had a black wreath for the door.  Something to tell the world driving by "something big, something important happened to the people in this family". Life wasn't going to be normal for quite some time.  I needed  to tell the world that my mother had just died.  It tells the world, GIVE US TIME TO GRIEVE!  I think the black wreath custom should return.

This week I share the pain of my friend Laura who just lost her mother earlier this week.  For Laura and her mother things went quickly.  I pray God's mercy touches Laura and her family and leaves peace with them.

Over the last 2 months, my sister lost first her mother in law, and then her father in law.  He died slightly more than a month after his wife.  Perhaps he really couldn't live without her.

My sister and her family was grieving the lost of two parents...when an aunt passed away last week.  The whole family is in grief.  I had to counsel my sister.  She was weeping in despair because she didn't FEEL like decorating for Christmas.  She asked for help and got no response.  Now one wanted the festive dinners.  The cookies didn't taste as sweet this year. No one wanted cookies.   My sister didn't want to spend the time to bake more.  She was MAD because this wasn't Christmas.  She was MAD because she couldn't do it all, everyone else seemed to put the pressure on her to MAKE Christmas.

So I told her to take a step back.  Obviously, Christmas is foremost the celebration of the birth of Christ. Everything else was second to that.  She and no one else should beat up on themselves because THIS Christmas, they were hurting too much to boisterously celebrate with carols, lights, endless baking, trees, or parties.  She needed a black wreath on the door to tell the neighborhood "Hey, cut us some slack, we're grieving up in here."

My advice to my sister.  Stop trying to find time to wrap gifts.  Go to the dollar store and buy gift bags.  Call it good and hide the bags until you're ready for the snoopy noses.  The world will not end if you give gifts still in the department store bags.

Curb the activities outside the home.  You don't have to go to the church party, the office party, the neighborhood party..the school parties.  Choose one that you love and remains important to you, if you feel up to it.  But allow yourself down time for the rest of the facilities.

Forget the elaborate holiday dinners.  You're tired...so use that crock pot.  Serve something non traditional...baked spaghetti, lasagna, grill steaks, slow cook the pot roast.  Your family isn't likely to remember this Christmas as the one mom didn't fix a turkey.  They will remember the Christmas that grandma and grandpa died and no one felt like celebrating Christmas.  Pare down the menu and do what you can.

Don't be shy about asking for help.  I was pleased that when she did state how the family was feeling, several near by family members invited her into their home for dinner.  Other's offered to decorate for her.  She turned them down on the decorating.  She has her tree up and she's decided that's enough for this and that's okay.

Be good and kind to yourself, full of grace because you are in mourning.  Hang out the black wreath and let the world know something important happened here.

Celebrate the birth of Christ and let all the other stuff slide.

Matthew 11:28

Amplified Bible (AMP)
 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.


  1. Thank you Tina - I needed to hear this. You are a blessing to me and many others. I pray you will experience peace and joy this Christmas season.

    1. I've lost a whole lot of family in the 2 weeks of Christmas. My heart hurts and understands. I pray that under the grief, you will still find the joy in the birth of Christ. Everything else is icing. My prayers are with your family at this time.