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The Empty Stocking Syndrome

by Rev. John H. Whitacre MDiv BCC
APC Forum, December 2017, Vol. 19 No.8

The Empty Stocking Syndrome is written for all of us who’ve lost a family member or friend or partner and pets throughout this year. This first holiday season's aloneness and emptiness without them being here is hard to manage. Relationships are never lost they are just transfigured. As I sat remembering the loss of my best man at my wedding this year my heart was moved to write the following words which I hope will be helpful to all of us who have stepped out on “this road less traveled.”

As we enter this holiday season we have many favorite songs and stories that resonate in our hearts. For the most part we all know “chestnuts roasting on an open fire... Stockings hung at the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.” Looking at this image in my mind’s eye, I cannot but recall how those stockings were pictured filled with rocking horses, candy canes, a pair of red and green striped socks, a gleaming red fire engine, a Raggedy Ann doll, with large round eyes. These are the hopes that each child held in their minds of things they might receive during the holiday season. As adults, however, in our adult mind’s eye of memories gone by, and even now gently changing, we do once again hang separate invisible stockings for the season for each family member and friend we have known, hanging it with care on the mantle of our hearts, with our heart's fire burning less brightly this year, at their passing, in hopes that they themselves would soon draw near. To regale us with memories of life shared and our journeys intertwined. For we all want one more encounter with those who have dropped the robes of this life to step through the door to embrace eternal life as their birth missions are completed. Some might say that we are selfish by wanting that relationship to continue on. But in reality that is just love looking for a new direction of sharing and renewing its comfortable companionship. Now, we who are left feel the aloneness in the absence of that distant joy, and the love that was once shared. Some might say that the stocking is now empty, never to be filled again. But I would say that all we needed to do was to take that seemingly empty stocking down from a fireplace and gently slip our hand inside to see what is hidden there. Once inside let your fingers pinch together and catch a memory that was previously shared and drawn them out of the stocking and enjoy them once again as if it was our first encounter. There we will find its strength that has never lessened. It’s hope that has never ended. In them is the belief in the possibilities waiting to be encountered anew in the vision of the day now lived and is being lived. Like the Christmas story it needs to be encountered again and again; shared with those who need to hear it as we maintain that sacred space in our hearts. Eventually, revitalized and given away so that it may find a new life in the hearts that touch our lives in new ways each day forward. In laughter, and in tears, and in a sense of love that can be rekindled, that they have found their sacred purpose. Here for a while in the aloneness we shall be satisfied until that time in which we shall meet again, in its own season.

So let us hang a stocking at the chimney with care for those that have dropped the robes of this life stepped into eternity and also for those who are separated by distance that we would like to draw close to. In that stocking, on a slip of paper let us write out our longings, our unexpressed love, and our hopes for them. Thus drawing them ever closer to Christmas contained in our hearts.
This is my hope for you all this Christmas Season,
The Rev John H Whitacre

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