Since I was serving a congregation at the time, I could not get free to travel away from home during an intensely busy time of the year.
We sat in the visiting room of the church home, which had the most hideous wallpaper I had seen up until that time. We chatted, and I tried to bring her up to date on family matters, and she would seek to be reassured that there was enough money to last. I would try to comforting, but Mother was not one who took to such words very much. She did not like being in nursing section, and missed being with my father, who had his own room in another wing.
So, I changed the subject. “How was Christmas around here?” I could see that many residents had received huge boxes of fruit from Florida, sent by relatives. Gifts to my parents were simple ones — usually something to wear, or a family portrait. Life is reduced and simple in care homes, and space is dear.
My mother replied, quickly. “Well, Son, all these sixth graders were brought to the home to sing Christmas songs to us inmates, and frankly, we were caroled to death!”
Caroled to death! I knew the feeling.
It was not so much that as a minister I heard, and participated in, carol singing. What had happened is that I had become overwhelmed by the amount of religious music pouring forth from the loud speaker systems in the large malls and in highly decorated stores. The songs, frequently rendered with clever accompaniments by trained singers were hardly the sincere efforts of sixth graders. These songs, some of great cheer and others with serious theological content, were being played to get people in the mood to buy.
In the difficult Christmas many Americans may face this season, some may feel “caroled to death,” as in a time of sharply reduced incomes, and fading retirement accounts, the joy and sorrow of Christmas music may be a little too much.
I suspect, knowing my mother’s sensitive nature, that the Christmas songs she heard increased her sense of sorrow. She was bereaved. Her privacy had been taken from her. Her little mahogany bookcase (which I still have) was somewhere else. Her 92-year-old husband was safely in a pleasant patio room, but oh, so far away. For fifty years, not all joyous by any means, they had shared life and space, joys and sorrows.
I believe that for her the music of the season could serve no other role than to increase her grief. She was perhaps not able to understand that much of the music of Christmas also is about grief, sorrow, and separation. A mother and father are on the move, with a little boy, strangers on the face of the earth, cold, perhaps, lonely, and afraid.
Listen to some of the songs of the season, and you will detect sadness and uncertainty in some of them. These songs are not always joyful. “In the bleak midwinter” sings Christina Rossetti, setting the mood for some people.
In South Carolina, where my mother lived, Christmas could well be warm and welcoming of outdoor activities. For an old woman, her brilliance captive to age and disease, the carols so prettily rendered might well have increased her sense of mortality, and the nearness of death. For her, it was bleak midwinter.
Let us not assume that for all Christmas is a time of unadulterated fun. Perhaps you may feel “caroled to death” these days. Rejoice! You are in good company.
LAWTON W. POSEY is a retired minister living in Charleston, W.V.