The “firsts” are tough. They’re a mixed bag. The old memories spill in upon you with the reminder that there are no new memories to come with the one lost. It’s final. Horrible.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2, 6

I had heard that Thanksgiving and Christmas were among the hardest firsts. It is early November as I write this entry, and I assumed I had time to prepare. I was wrong. So wrong.

Earlier I wrote about two different kinds of mourning. First, there’s planned and intentional mourning; and, second, there’s spontaneous out-of-the-blue-ready-or-not mourning. One takes discipline to embrace; the other takes responsiveness, agility, and recovery.

I thought I had time to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I thought I had time to brace myself. I didn’t.

I have a question: Whose idea was it to start playing Christmas music so early? Can’t we regulate when we can begin decorating and playing music for holidays?

Candidly, I’ve never cared when all the celebration started. I’ve always loved Christmas. After I married Kim, I loved Christmas even more. She knew how to make it special for our family. She carefully made memories. She was intentional in helping us celebrate.

My job was to be ready with a devotional and to read the Christmas story. It was almost an assignment. She had it planned. Intentional. Kim never lost sight of why we celebrate Christmas. Her favorite Christmas carol was O Holy Night. She loved the power and grandeur of that declaration of the import of that holy night. Incarnation. God became man. Miraculous. Worthy of celebrating. Gifts were important—and biblical. Wise men brought gifts. Giving to each other helps us shine a light on our generous, giving God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” John 3:16

Kim celebrated the God who gave, the Son who was given, and the wise men who gave us an example of how we could celebrate the incarnate Savior. Christmas. Celebration. Salvation. Family. Unity. Beautiful—always beautiful. Kim’s childlike wonder at Christmas lights was always a source of pleasure. I enjoyed Christmas through Kim’s eyes. Her touch. Her influence. Her imagination.

But she’s gone, and I am facing loss. I have been told—and I believe—Christmas will not be the same. It’s now another one of the horrible firsts. Don’t get me wrong. The reason behind this magnificent season has not gone away. But there’s an overlay of grief that goes with how it’s always been celebrated. It’s inevitable.

In November, I got in my car on the last morning of a work trip to head to the airport. I hadn’t had the radio on at all on that trip. I turned it on and began to search for a channel. I punched the seek button scrolling through stations.

And then it happened.

I landed on a station that was already broadcasting Christmas music. Too early. Blasting from my radio was the first Christmas song I would hear this season. You guessed it. O Holy Night:

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices. O night divine, O night when Christ was born.” Adolphe Adam

I began to weep. No warning. I realize now that even the “firsts” have “firsts.” The first Christmas had the first Christmas carol. And wouldn’t’ you know it. It had to be Kim’s favorite Christmas carol. How ironic.

How perfect.

It was one of those out-of-the-blue-ready-or-not moments. I wasn’t prepared. You’ve heard of people seeing their life flash before their eyes. I had my Christmas and my Christmases flash before my eyes.

I love Christmas. O what a holy night, indeed. But, this day it’s once again another reminder of my horrible loss, a hole in my heart. However, I will face my loss with hope because of the incarnate Messiah. I will celebrate. But I will also remember and mourn my loss through yet another of the firsts.

I wrote one song for Kim. One song. I love this line from my love song:

“A smile appears within my heart as I give you this ring. I pledge my life, my love, my all, to show you what it means.”

People sing to those they love. Love songs are part of our culture. I wrote one song for Kim. I wish someone would count how many songs of adoration have been written for the baby given to us at Christmas. Kim’s favorite stands out.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth…Fall on your knees…” Adolphe Adam

What hope Christmas gives! What joy is ours because of the birth of our Savior! God came down at Christmas. Hope. Joy. Salvation. Immanuel. My horrible loss, my hole in my heart, must be faced in the context of the gift given to us on that holy night.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” Luke 2:10