A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 346: A Coffee-less Christmas




Ronald Kok, Grief, 2013, painted paper mosaic

Christmas season is many things to many people. Regardless of the cheer and seeming goodwill that is as much a part of the lore of the season as carols and cranberry sauce, many people suffer deeply during the holidays. Those in pain, in grief, fighting an internal battle, or struggling through a life full of tremendous challenges have a much harder time when all around them is bouncy, jingly music and bright, twinkling lights.

My brother-in-law died of leukemia a little over a year ago.  My sister and their three 20-something children had to say good-bye to a much loved husband and father. His youngest child, my nephew Eric, composed a poem to express his feelings during this Advent season. I asked him if I could publish that poem here on this blog and he graciously said yes.

Below is his brief intro to the poem and then the poem itself…

Every year I try to do some writing around Christmas and share it, despite its quality…I have a lot of emotions attached to this time of year, most of them not terribly positive.

As in all things, there are many stories to be told, many alternatives to the “Christmas cheer” narrative. My friends in loss, in hardship, those with different stories I see you and hear you, you are not alone.


The coffee maker stopped working
and we were left wondering
how you celebrate Christmas day without
coffee and baileys.

For us, coffee is a sacred ritual
a routine that binds us
with perfectly soaked grounds
and radiant ceramic that warms something
beneath your skin.

A coffee-less Christmas, then,
would mark a holiday apart,
missing something,

Before the problem solving brain
had time to intervene,
one without, caffeinated the other
and the loss of one sacred ritual
highlighted another gained:
a funeral,
a celebration of life
a life lost to us –
missing something.

Watching your father wash away
in blood and saline
chemo and fentanyl
over eight months until
the man you knew,
who loved you well,
with whom you fought and cried,
is watered down like
oversaturated coffee…
kissing the tepid forehead
of this once-father
still father anew
fucks you up:

Like losing a two months
of memories
with the exception of
a broken coffee maker
a broken family

Each year I find myself
deepening into advent
into messy, desperate longing
for hope
for home
for warmth that soothes something
beneath my skin
for living water that might
soothe my caffeine cravings for not yet.

Though it may seem that we are dwelling in grief
you’ve seen nothing but the foyer.
Grief made a home amongst us –
as tangible as the coarse branches of your PVC
Christmas tree on soft skin.

You are welcome here,
come in.
Just know that we are still learning
how to fit
the fragments of grief
between the trimmings,
finding room for it
at the table,
shifting storage
to stow away the boxes
still to be unpacked
contents unknown
or known too well.

There is now a new coffee maker –
one sacred ritual renewed,
under new management.
The taste is different
yet there we gather as a new family –
one with an empty chair
a lit candle,
and a now familiar weight.

And now I rest into advent
and the sounds of Julien Baker:
“Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right
And I know that it’s not,
but I have to believe that it is.”
desperate longing
stubborn hope
a joy beyond cheer
a visceral Immanuel declaration.
– Eric Van Giessen

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