The lack of snow on the ground has made it challenging for my family to feel that pure and fluffy holiday spirit this Advent. It’s been a bit easier for me as I can recall Decembers I lived in both Ireland and Mexico, neither of which have snow in the winter with any regularity. The mangers and ornament-laiden trees are the same; wrapped presents and smiles still accumulate.

My husband and I have talked with the kids about how many places in the world people celebrate Christmas without snow – even in the southern hemisphere, in the middle of summer! My parents will be in Florida this Christmas, and I’ve enjoyed the videos my Mom has shared of how people still have holiday cheer and happiness, whatever the weather, like a parade of Christmas-decorated boats along the Inland Waterway and a children’s charity event where a woman even brought a handheld snowmaker to add to the festivity.

What the lack of snow has gifted us with is the chance to remind the kids, and ourselves, that more than Christmas-y feelings, what we’re preparing to celebrate is Jesus’ birth. And that reality has nothing to do with snow being on the ground!

What has proved more personally challenging this Advent are the overhanging clouds of grief.

One year ago, I was getting ready to spend Christmas with my Grandma Joyce Robertson in Rhode Island – not knowing it would be her last. She passed on Jan. 5, just days after a most memorable Christmas together. I will never, ever forget how many times she asked if we could just sit and read the Christmas story in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew together. How happy she was with the simple things and that what was most important was truly celebrating the birth of the Savior.

I know this year I will not be the only one living through this experience of the first Christmas without a loved one. Even with the confidence that their suffering is over and they are experiencing life as we hope to one day, the human pain of loss feels more tangible than heaven during these days.

I hope that anyone grieving a loved one this Christmas has, alongside that grief, a strong sense of the new, everlasting fullness of life they participate in. It’s been beautiful to see the ways God finds to give me comfort through providential details assuring my Grandma Joyce (and other “lost” loved ones) they are not gone, they’ve just gone ahead.

One of those was, just weeks after my Grandma’s death, finding some wooden ornaments that said JOY, (on clearance, no less!). My nickname for my Grandma was JOY-ous, a moniker I didn’t realize until I was older and learned more about the mental health struggles she lived with, was providential and life-giving for her in its own right.

As I was getting ready to wrap the ornaments to send to our immediate family, I wanted to find a way to express the sentiment and prayer I was sending along with it. I quickly wrote a poem to share my thoughts, and I think they are words, even though specific to my grandmother’s name, that can give peace and light to anyone living with loss this Christmas.

May all our gone-ahead loved ones, through God’s mercy and grace, find ways to reach out to us this Christmas to give us a glimpse of the eternal joy they take part in and look forward to sharing with us some day.

Wishing You a JOYous Christmas
This first year without Grandma Joyce,
I’m wishing you her peace in Heaven.
There with her loved Jesus’ voice,
The glory of angels’ song deafen
Our ears to all worries and cares,
So as to hear the JOY Joyce shares.

Jenny Snarski