The Years That Darkness Overshadowed Our Joy of Christmas
It was the morning of August 23, 2000. My younger son, Ben, and I were on a plane bound for Seattle to attend my niece’s wedding, and were excited about seeing my four brothers and their families.
Back at home, my eldest, Joseph (Joe), and two of his friends were in town from Florida, visiting for a few days. Joe had recently returned from spending the summer in Mongolia with Teen Missions International, a missionary organization where he served as one of the team leaders for a group of younger teens on a mission project. At age 10, he had asked to join the organization, and over the years worked on several projects. Many drew inspiration from his example.
As a young child, Joe was known for his kindness. Now 20, he had matured into a young man who loved serving others and making this world a better place. I was a proud and pleased father.
Ben and I enjoyed our flight and were joyously greeted at the airport by one of my brothers and his family.
Meanwhile, my wife (Nancy), our youngest son, Chris, Joe, and his friends, were making a trip to Avery Island. Joe wanted to show the area to his guests, and pick up miniature bottles of Tabasco Sauce as souvenirs to take back to Florida.
In Seattle, we stopped for lunch before arriving at my brother’s house. While waiting on our order, my cell phone rang. I left the table to find a quieter place to talk. It was my pastor; he was calling to inform me that there had been a terrible car accident—Joe and one of his friends had been killed instantly. My wife, Chris and Joe’s other friend survived the crash, but were all injured in different ways.
I lost it! My legs gave out from under me. I could barely stand or walk. Everyone in the restaurant heard my sobs and knew my pain. We left abruptly and caught the next flight home.
At the funeral, I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore—then, felt guilty for running out of tears. I blamed myself for leaving home. If I had stayed, I would have been driving the car, not Joe. Things would have been different. How could this happen? Why Joe? I felt lost.
That moment changed me. It changed my family. For years, we avoided certain activities and events. We were afraid of losing it in front of other people, fearful of a moment that could trigger a flood of intense emotions we couldn’t control.
The Holidays were very difficult. For several years we went away for Christmas because we didn’t want to do a “family” Christmas at home. We were still trying to figure out what our “family” was to look like after going through this trauma and loss.
Over time, we learned to deal with our grief and to develop a new since of calm and joy for our life. It was not easy, but thankfully, we had the unwavering support of our family and friends; the understanding of my employer and coworkers; and faith in a loving God, in whom we put our trust.
If you are experiencing grief and loss, I'm here to tell you that there is hope; there is a way out, if you are willing to take that first vital step.
- Seek the support of family and friends.
- Do not isolate yourself.
- Join a grief support group in your community. Many local churches and agencies offer these services.
- Seek professional counseling.
About the author: Don Short is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). His practice focuses on clients with marriage, relationship and family issues. He is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. To learn more contact 337-781-4565 or www.afterhourscounseling.com.