It was the morning of December 25th, 2013. I quietly snuck out of my room to get everything ready for when Chichi (4) and Gordi (1) woke up to experience the joy of going through their stockings and opening presents. I may have eaten the half a cookie Santa left to sprinkle some sweetness on my day. I was mentally prepared to enjoy my children’s first Christmas without the physical presence of their middle sister, Fofi. She had moved to Heaven exactly four months prior and, though I was in pain, I was committed to honoring my living daughter and son—along with the little peanut that had danced her way into my womb. It was going to be a beautiful day! After all, the “reason for the season” was the birth of Baby Jesus and I wanted Him to be reborn in my broken heart—and, hopefully, mend it. I was full of gratitude for my faith, the love and support with which I was surrounded, and especially the lives of the little people and handsome man that I call family.
The day was magical! The smile and radiance on my children’s faces when they saw Santa’s doings were priceless. Their excitement became mine. My pain was numbed by the medicine of joy that Baby Jesus delivered that Christmas in my home. I felt grateful for having the ability to appreciate what I DID have, rather than experiencing the natural tendency of focusing on what I had lost.
My kids played with their new toys and enjoyed the company of the grandparents, uncles, and aunties that visited with surprises. It didn’t get old to witness their bliss. The evening approached and we got ready to attend mass, as we did every 25th of the month since our daughter’s passing. What a perfect way to wrap up such a wonderful day! Church was our happy place and we felt closer to our heavenly angel when we were visiting.
I was wrapped by my husband’s arms during the entire mass celebration. The numbing effect of the joy anesthesia started to fade away. I could feel the pain again. My broken heart had not been mended after all. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my chest moved back and forth as my sadness made it feel as though I couldn’t breathe. My abs contracted as I crunched forward to hold inside the explosion of agonizing emotions that had taken over me.
I took a deep breath.
And then another one.
“Inhale peace and exhale pain,” I told myself.
I tried to get a grip of myself and concentrate in the message that the priest was sharing as part of the homily. I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I have a clear image of how he said it. The tall, dark Haitian man was full of contagious joy. His beautiful smile and white teeth never hid during the entire mass. He was so happy! He spoke loudly and with enthusiasm. His heart was about to explode with ecstatic joy as he shared his thoughts about the birth of Jesus.
I didn’t get it.
How could this man be so incredibly happy about Jesus being born, when he already knew the torturous crucifixion that this poor baby was going to endure? How do you celebrate life, when a painful death will follow?
I was jealous of that priest’s joy. I wanted it. So badly.
I remember thinking, “I want to get there. I want to think of Fofi with a heart full of joy and gratitude for having enjoyed her for three years. I want to celebrate her life, rather than dwell on her death. I want to focus on her resurrection and the lives she saved by giving up hers. I want to believe she’s eternal and forget about this temporary thing we call life. I want for her birthday to be like Christmas—a day of celebration.”
All I want for Christmas… IS JOY!
Unlike happiness, which we seem to pursue relentlessly, joy is not conditioned to our life experiences. It does not depend on our health or wealth; how well things are going at home or work; how fulfilled we feel in our relationships; how life and others treat us; or what we have gained or lost. Joy is a virtue that lies within us and cannot be altered by anyone, but ourselves. We choose to experience it and are responsible for maintaining it.
Joy—like love—is a decision. It is not a feeling. Feelings don’t last and they change drastically in the presence of adversity or unexpected life events. Joy—and love—remain. They build character and strength. They shield us from suffering by allowing us to experience inevitable pain with hope. Joy gives us faith to believe that the most excruciating moments of our lives are blessings in formation.
I chose joy 5 years ago when losing my daughter destroyed my happiness. I did so by declaring war to my very desires. Whenever I felt like staying in bed depressed, I got up. If I found myself in darkness, I would turn on a light by reframing (changing the perspective from which I saw a negative situation into a positive one). When I wanted to give up, I fought harder. If I fell into the trap of connecting my love towards Fofi to the number of tears I shed for her, I would snap out of it by smiling at her lovely memories or serving others in her name.
At the beginning, my efforts gave me moments of joy, but my humanity brought me back to the pain of death. As time went by and I persevered in my intent, I substituted the habit of feeling sad and connecting my loss to pain, with the habit of feeling joyful and reframing my loss as the gain of an angel. I learned to grieve Fofi through service and smiles.
I still feel sadness. I still cry. I still miss her.
But I do so with joy in my mended heart.
All I want for Christmas… is the grace to remain joyful!