Friday, January 05, 2024

Overcoming Loss Around Christmas: House Mountain Hike #188, on 12-31-2023! (published 1-5-2024; article #447)


Another year has gone by. I'd written several daily notes, in my 2023 desk calendar. Turn the page. Another year has started. My 2024 desk calendar has only a few notes, so far. Here we go again. The undiscovered country awaits us. What will it bring? We will see. It's an undiscovered country. Only God knows what will happen, in 2024.

Greetings, dear reader. We may or may not know each other personally. We may not be from the same country. I understand, however, why the first part of the title has drawn you to this article. I hope that this personal essay helps you. Writing it, over the course of seven days, has helped me. I will explain.

If you stay with me, to the conclusion, then you will understand why I selected the above image. This is the 20th article, under the topic section, “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” The conclusion will explain why that topic section is so titled.

My mind had pondered this article, for a few days. I thought about not writing it. On Friday, 12/29/2023, I decided to start writing. On that day, I searched online, by “overcoming loss around Christmas.” I found plenty of “how to” articles, which include bullet point advice, tips, and suggestions, to help readers. While well-meaning, such entries are a dime a dozen. Some articles approach the topic, from a biblical viewpoint. They are laced with inspiring passages. I already know those scriptures. You may know them as well. I was drawn to a few articles that share personal stories of loss, around Christmas. While more meaningful, I didn't find one that spoke to my heart. I may not have searched widely enough, but I saw the need to write this article.

This article, speaking from my heart, relates the ways that I have found, this year, in particular, to overcome the loss of a loved one, around Christmas. For me, the season of loss includes Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day. This is not a “how to” article. It's a personal sharing, of what I did, once again, to overcome memories of loss, around the holidays.

The Loss

Actually, there were several. Every year, around Christmas, each loss combines, as one prolonged memory of loss. I feel as if a dreary cloud hangs above me, especially when the weather is also dreary. I feel as if I am near the bottom of a dark enclosure, such as a cave or ravine, with little sunlight. I attempt to clear the cloud and to climb up, out of the darkness, toward the light. The memories occur, in random order, usually triggered by the day.

My maternal grandfather, Aby William Wood (born 9/4/1901), became ill, on Christmas, in 1982. Christmas was on Saturday, that year. At age 22, I was renting a small apartment and attending East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee. I was home, on weekends. On those weekends, I stayed the night shifts, with Papaw, at the hospital. On the Sunday morning, before he passed away, the next day, Papaw appeared to be better than he had ever been! In the sunny and crisp morning weather, as I walked to my 1978 Mustang Cobra II, to go back home and to prepare to go back to my apartment, I remember thanking God, for helping Papaw recover so well. Papaw passed, the next day, on Monday, March 14, 1983. I was stunned, when Mom called, to tell me.

I searched this website, by “Aby Wood,” to find several articles. I was drawn to the 3/14/2013 article, “Tribute to Papaw Wood - Revisited.” I won't write further, in this article, about Papaw's illness and passing. To do so would bring the bad memories, further to the front of my mind.

On Christmas Eve, 2002, Dad (Earl Ferrell, born 9/17/1927) was released, from the hospital, to home. Christmas Eve was on Tuesday, that year. Dad had been given six months to live. I followed my youngest brother, who was driving Dad back home. It was a cloudy and cool afternoon. Additional details are in the 6/20/2021 article -- in which I talk with Dad, in the first person -- under the section “December 17, 2002 to January 13, 2003?” Thanks to God's providence, Dad lived just over five years longer.

In late 2007, Dad's heart was winding down. Dad joined Mom, on Friday, January 25, 2008, a month after his last Christmas. Searching for articles about Dad, I focused on two: the 6/21/2009 Father's Day tribute and the 6/26/2010 article, titled “Well Machine & Water Truck Legacy.”

Papaw Wood and Dad were older. Papaw's Christmas Day illness that led to his passing and Dad's Christmas time illnesses and passing, a month after Christmas, were tragic, especially since they occurred, on or around Christmas.

Mom (Betty Lou Wood Ferrell, born 11/24/1932) was only age 67, when the ambulance took her to the hospital, on Tuesday, 12/28/1999. My wife and I had returned, from our five-year mission work, in Russia, on 9/30/1999. We were living in a small apartment, in Knoxville, Tennessee, and adjusting to life in America.

On 12/16/1999, Mom became ill. Shortly afterward, a local physician had missed the diagnosis. It wasn't just a bad case of influenza. Family gathered, for a subdued Christmas, thinking that Mom was recovering from influenza. It was a cerebellar hemorrhage, as a result of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a birth defect. Mom didn't have any symptoms, before the AVM leaked, on 12/16/1999. If it had ruptured, then Mom would have died instantly.

Late on New Year's Eve, 1999, a Friday, as New Year's Day was approaching, family were gathered around Mom's ICU bed. Mom was still in a coma. Medical staff were concerned about possible year 2000 (Y2K) computer problems. At midnight, I whispered, “Happy New Year, Mom.” I hoped that she could hear me.

Mom was hospitalized, in two hospitals, for 110 days. Surgery repaired the cerebellar hemorrhage. In shifts, family stayed with Mom, around the clock. The day shift was mine, usually. Finally, Mom recovered well enough, to return home, on Saturday, 4/15/2000, a cool and clear day. Out-patient physical therapy was continued by in-home physical therapy. On Thanksgiving, 2000, the day before Mom's 68th birthday, she looked and felt better than she had, since her hospitalizations. She said, “I think I can see some light at the end of the tunnel!” The next day, on her birthday, she had pain, in her side.

The pain wasn't due to the in-home physical therapy that Mom was doing. It was bone cancer. The cancer spread quickly, to her lungs and liver. Mom hadn't had any diagnosis or symptoms, until her 68th birthday.

On Christmas Eve, 2000, a Sunday, I followed the ambulance that brought Mom home. Before we left the hospital, Mom said to me, “You all have to let me go. I want to go see Jesus.” Mom wanted to die, at home. Three days later, on Wednesday, 12/27/2000, at 5:15 PM, Mom went to see Jesus.

This section has been only an encapsulation, of the one prolonged memory of loss, around Christmas. Many memories, which are tucked away, in the background through the year, come to the forefront, around Christmas. If you have stayed with me, so far, then you must be able to relate.


The days of the week, in December, 2023, were the same, as in 2000. The days also matched, in 2006 and 2017. Once again, I managed to clear the dreary clouds and to climb out of the dark cave, toward the sunlight. Thankfully, I suppressed and overcame the memories, of family illnesses and losses, around Christmas. I did so, by focusing on day-to-day activities and events. Also, I interjected humor, as often as I could. Filling my thoughts with these helped suppress the bad memories. The daily diary, which follows, shares what I did, to overcome the bad memories.

Christmas Eve, Sunday, 12/24/2023: on Christmas Eve, Sunday, in 2000, I'd followed the ambulance that brought Mom home, to “go see Jesus,” three days later. On Christmas Eve, in 2002, I followed my youngest brother, as he brought Dad home, from the hospital. God answered my prayer of desperation, while I was driving, by granting Dad over five more years of life.

Last Christmas Eve was on a Sunday. My wife and I drove, in my 2006 Frontier, to visit my sister, Carol Sue, her daughter, and her daughter's three children (two young adult sons and teenage daughter). We met the wife of one of my great nephews. (The short story, of 8/5/2023, explains how my sister and I adopted each other!) The six family members were staying, in a rental cabin, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. After having negotiated the narrow and curvy roads, which rolled up and down various hills, we enjoyed a wonderful family visit! Driving back home, my wife and I dined, at an area Shoney's restaurant. It was a full and rich day. The weather was unseasonably warm, sunny, and windy. The activity kept my mind, from dwelling on Christmas Eve, in 2000 and 2002.

Christmas, Monday, 12/25/2023: on Christmas, in 1982, Papaw Wood became ill. Mom's illness, on Christmas, in 1999, had been misdiagnosed as influenza. She was hospitalized three days later. On Christmas, 2000, a Monday, Mom would live two more days, before going “to see Jesus.” Dad's last Christmas was in 2007. He lived another month.

This last Christmas, on a Monday, was a rainy, springlike day. I'd spoken with my youngest brother, on Christmas Eve. My wife and I gathered with her family -- father, two younger sisters, niece, and first cousin -- at her father's nearby house. A family friend was also present. Focusing on the conversations and activities, my mind didn't dwell too much, on the bad Christmas memories. My next to youngest brother and I spoke, by phone. I left my brother, who is next to me in age, a phone message.

Back home, Molly, our eight-year-old “puppy,” entertained my wife and me. I avoided watching the various Christmas movies, on TV. The events of the day kept my mind, from dwelling on memories of bad Christmases.

Tuesday, 12/26/2023: it was another rainy, springlike day. My sister, Carol Sue, called, to say that the family had made it safely, from Gatlinburg, back to their Missouri homes. My brother, next to me in age, returned my call. These and other activities helped.

I must add one item! To my “long-suffering” wife, whom I call Mrs. Appalachian Irishman, I apologize! My wife likes to fall asleep, with the bedroom TV still on. The remote rests beside her, usually. At 9:37 PM, I photographed my wife, asleep in our bed, with the remote still in her hand!

That humor helped! Again, I'm sorry, dear! I did crop the image, to not show your sleeping face!

Wednesday, 12/27/2023: on Wednesday, 12/27/2000, Mom “went to see Jesus.” On Wednesday, 12/27/2023, the morning clouds cleared, and the afternoon sun was brilliant. I bought online and downloaded eight classic rock songs, which I had discovered were not in my collection. That simple activity helped. I enjoyed listening to the songs.

Moments before 5:15 PM, I sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the large double windows. Looking southeast, as dusk was bringing on the night, I could see our back yard and the ridgeline beyond it. I noticed the time, at 5:15 PM. I remained calm and silent, while I could hear my wife, in the kitchen, and Molly, in the back yard. I paused, in memory of Mom's passing, at 5:15 PM, on 12/27/2000. I pause, in a similar manner, every year. Afterward, I always get up and resume whatever activity had been occupying my time.

Thursday, 12/28/2023: on Thursday, 12/28/1999, my two younger brothers and I followed the ambulance that took Mom to the hospital. At the emergency room, in unison, we demanded that Mom be admitted. My next to youngest brother stayed that first night shift, with Mom. I relieved him, early the next morning.

On Thursday, 12/28/2023, I took Molly, our beloved dog, to her annual physical examination. The appointment was at 8 AM. The weather was mostly sunny and somewhat cooler. My wife, who still wasn't fully over her mild cold, took herself, to a nearby medical clinic. Later, I picked up her prescriptions, at a local pharmacy. We also had the pleasure of a surprise fill up, of our underground propane tank! Molly was glad to see Gordon again! (Reading the 10/31/2022 article will help you understand!)

The activities of that full, rich day kept the bad memories, on that date, 24 years ago, in their place. I'm glad that daily activities kept me busy. My wife, by the way, recovered fully.

Again, I must add a point of humor, at the expense of my wife! To my “long-suffering” wife, I apologize again, dear! My wife had fallen asleep, again, with the bedroom TV on and the remote in her hand! Once again, this time at 9:57 PM, I photographed my wife, asleep in our bed, with the remote still in her hand!

Yes, her family have already seen both photographs! I cropped the image. Thanks, dear, for giving me an opportunity, for humor, to help, as I remembered 12/28/1999.

Friday, 12/29/2023: the visitation and funeral, for Mom, were on the Friday evening, of 12/29/2000, at the East Rogersville Baptist Church, in my hometown. Joining the large gathering of family, friends, and church family was the surprise visit, by my sister, Carol Sue, and her husband, Mike!

On Friday, 12/29/2023, my attempted annual physical examination was a failure. The appointment was at 8:30 AM. The weather was cloudy and cool. The light snow melted, before it could accumulate. My fine doctor and friend had changed networks, unknown to me, at the time. I declined the offer, to be examined, at the self-pay cost, which was extremely high. Conducting my own physical examination, I determined that I am very healthy, active, and fit. Later, I busied myself, by hauling off trash and recycling, filling up my truck's gas tank, and buying groceries.

At the grocery store, an employee, with whom I enjoy talking, shared that his uncle had passed, that morning. I hope that my words of comfort encouraged him. Our final point of conversation was about seeing deceased family again, in heaven, when we join them.

I started writing this article. Writing it, however, was bringing up too many bad memories, around Christmas time. I didn't think that I would finish it.

Saturday, 12/30/2023: the graveside service, for Mom, was on Saturday, 12/30/2000. The high temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a bitterly cold wind, blowing from the northeast. Family sat on cold metal folding chairs. The minister, family, and several friends endured the frigid weather, as we said our final farewell. I still have some of the roses, which had frozen, at the grave site.

Saturday, 12/30/2023, was a cloud and cool day. I awakened, about 4:30 AM, with a congested nose. Running salt water twice, through my nose, using a neti pot, decongested me. I called and spoke with my youngest brother. (We're still trying to figure out how to get the Christmas presents, to his daughters! Seeing each other, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, hadn't worked out.) I enjoyed the 4 PM Orange Bowl. The #6-ranked Georgia Bulldogs destroyed the #5-ranked Florida State Seminoles, 66 to 3.

Well, those activities fairly well distracted my mind, from those of 12/30/2000. I'd tried to write more, on this article, but the bad memories came back, too quickly.

New Year's Eve, Sunday, 12/31/2023: on New Year's Eve, 1999, Mom was in a coma, in the intensive care unit. It was a Friday. A year later, on New Year's Eve, Sunday, 12/31/2000, at Dad's request, my wife and I joined him, for the morning worship service, at the East Rogersville Baptist Church. My youngest brother and his new wife attended also. (They were married, on 5/6/2000. I was honored, to perform the ceremony. Mom was able to attend, in a wheelchair.)

On Sunday, New Year's Eve, 12/31/2023, the weather was sunny, windy, and mild. The temperature was in the low 50s Fahrenheit. After worship, what else could I do? I hiked House Mountain, for the 188th time! (This article is also included, as the 60th entry, under the “hiking” topic section.)

If you say that I only walked the two loop trails, at the mountain base, near the upper and lower parking lots, then I won't disagree. It still counts, as my tenth House Mountain hike, in 2023! I didn't hike up the ridge, to a bluff, since my truck and I still had to go to the Tractor Supply, where I bought Molly some dog food and treats.

The east loop is three-tenths of a mile. The west loop is shorter, at two-tenths of a mile. Both parking lots were full, so my truck rested, on the shoulder, near the lower parking lot. I “hiked,” or walked, if you prefer, the east loop, to the upper parking lot, where the information board, fancy two-seater outhouse, and covered picnic area are. I continued onto the west loop. Backtracking, I “hiked” back, on the west loop and onto the east loop. That made only one easy mile of “hiking.” Even stopping, to enjoy the limited views, I “hiked,” from 3:01 to 3:31 PM, thirty minutes exactly. Thirty minutes in the woods, even on the loop trails, is better than not having been there!

I took the photograph, below, at 3:21 PM. I had just started “hiking” back out, on the east trail. The setting sun was behind me.

The rock steps, in the lower right of the image, continue the trail, down. The trail then winds up, across, around, and down, back to the lower parking lot.

Remember, when small men cast tall shadows, the sun is setting, in the west! With shoes on, I stand six feet tall. The image casts a very tall shadow, of this Appalachian Irishman! The hiking politics of this is that the small leaders, of this once great nation, are leading our beloved nation, into, what I call, “Socialist Utopian Oblivion.” That's my political soapbox. I'm done. Dad, who followed politics, would enjoy my soapbox!

New Year's Day, Monday, 1/1/2023: on New Year's Day, in 2000, Mom's prolonged recovery had just begun. Then, only God knew that she would recover well enough, just to endure the other illness that took her from us. On New Year's Day, in 2001, a Monday, life, such as it was, continued, without Mom. On New Year's Day, in 2008, we knew that Dad's ticker didn't have many ticks left. Dad's heart stopped beating, 24 days later.

New Year's Day, of 2023, a Monday, was cool and cloudy. I sweep and vacuumed. (My wife dusted.) I watched some of the ReliaQuest Bowl, 12 PM start, to see #13 LSU beat unranked Wisconsin, 35-31. It was fun to watch #21 Tennessee dominate #17 Iowa, 35-0, in the Citrus Bowl (1 PM start).

Later, I watched the college football playoff semifinal games. Our good neighbor, Chuck, was disappointed, to watch #4 Alabama fall, in overtime, to #1 Michigan, in the Rose Bowl, 20-27. The game started at 5 PM. Molly, inside with us by then, was hoping that her buddy, Chuck, would not be sad. Molly and I saw and talked with Chuck, the next day. He took the loss well.

The Sugar Bowl started at 8:45 PM. My wife was in bed, as usual, about 9 PM, just after Molly bedded down, for the night, in her basement condominium. (By the way, my wife now sleeps, with both arms under the covers. With her asleep and the bedroom TV on, I find the remote on top of the covers, safely away from her hands!) Alone in the living room, I watched some of the Sugar Bowl. The next morning, I learned that #2 Washington had beaten #3 Texas, 37-31. I'd wanted Texas to win, since Washington state is a socialist mecca and Texas doesn't seem to be! (Okay, that's another political soapbox. I'm off of it now.)


Having read carefully, dear reader, you probably already know why this article is included, in the topic section, “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” and why the section is so named. The 12/26/2021 article includes a subsection, titled “Light at the end of the tunnel, the Backdrop (written 8/25/2016).” On Thanksgiving, 2000, Mom felt and looked better that she had, before her illness. She said, “I think I can see some light at the end of the tunnel!” If and when I complete and publish my book, it will be titled “Light at the End of the Tunnel.”

How do I overcome loss, around Christmas? The memory-filled emotions arise. I battle against them. I force myself not to dwell on them. I engross myself, with the activities of the day. I find or create something important, on which to focus. I force myself to think about good memories, around Christmas. I find or interject humor, as often as I can. I've been doing this, for 23 years. (As recent examples, the 12/29/2020 article and the first article, of 12/29/2021, mention my efforts, around Christmas, in those years.) I think that each Christmas season will be easier. Each season usually starts off easier. As the days draw closer to and pass Christmas, however, my struggle intensifies.

Thinking about and writing articles, such as this one, bring up the bad memories. I've been working on the draft, for this article, a little every day, since last Friday. I almost didn't finish it. By finishing and publishing this article, however, I can clear out and return the bad memories, to their places of safe keeping, until they come back again.

The main way that I overcome loss, around Christmas, is to focus on the everlasting. I will see Papaw Wood, Mom, Dad, and so many other beloved family and friends once again! Their heavenly joy is complete and beyond my full ability to understand.

Praying and reading the Bible help, of course. While working on this article, I read the pericope, in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 - 16. The setting is the Passover meal, in the upper room. Jesus comforts his disciples, before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Please read the pericope. I focus on the following three verses, in chapter 16, where Jesus said:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy (verse 20, NIV).

So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (verse 22, NIV).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (verse 33, NIV).

The disciples must have recalled and been comforted by Jesus' words, when they faced their upcoming grief. Jesus was taken from them, but He arose and was with them, until He ascended back to heaven (Luke chapter 24; John 20:1 - 21:25; Acts 1:1-11). Their grief was turned to joy, which no one could take from them.

The Christmas season -- from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day -- brings rejoicing to many, while some grieve. We, who grieve, will have our grief turned to joy. When we “go see Jesus” and join many beloved family and friends, we will rejoice everlastingly, and no one can take away our joy. In the world, we face trouble and sorrow, but we take heart and find peace, through Christ, who has overcome the world!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, for sharing your heart! It's hard. I, too, remember but keep busy, on here and now tasks. I hope your wife doesn't fire you, as her husband! Ha!

M. Fearghail said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your kind comment. It's encouraging to hear from others, who also struggle, to overcome memories of loss, around Christmas. May God bless you! My wife, thankfully, decided to keep me!