Column: LA Times

 In 2017, Lilli, our content editor, lost her father.

Today, she reflects back on her first Christmas without her dad, and offers some words of encouragement to those suffering from loss this holiday season.

-Chad, opinion editor

Picture the opening scene from “Saving Private Ryan:” soldiers scrambling around the beach, trying to protect themselves and their countrymen while fighting a ruthless, consuming enemy. That is what my experience with grief feels like.

The 2017 holiday season was one that I army-crawled through as bombs of grief, depression, fear and heartache ripped through my home. It was our first holiday season without my dad — a strong lion-like leader with a vibrant personality. His death shocked our community and rattled my family. The holidays are supposed to be magical. They are supposed to bring family together. But I felt like the chasm between my dad and I was getting bigger. 

Traditions as simple as my dad perfecting the Thanksgiving gravy while singing 80s love songs to my mom were suddenly no more. His smile wasn’t waiting by the tree on Christmas morning. He couldn’t give my mom presents or help my little brother assemble his Legos or proudly hand me a perfectly handcrafted cup of coffee. 

And just like it’s the little quirks that make each family’s holiday season unique and magical, it’s the loss of these little quirks that hurt the most. Hurt makes us susceptible to living under reproach, which is why those who battle through grief must guard their hearts with vigilance. 

So, dear solider, love well. Grief is ruthless and mean, but you don’t have to be. This time last year, I was losing my mind because I lost my dad. I was grieving my entire existence because I felt like everything changed. I lost sight of the people around me — the people I still had. 

This year, I am determined to take the magic my dad contributed to my life and give it to my family. I am determined to find the beautiful and charming in this year. 

And fellow solider, be meek. Grief is a powerful tool, and it can be easily wielded to hurt others, to subject them to a version of your own pain. Do not use it. 

Family and friends will unintentionally say hurtful season’s greetings. Last year, a well-knowing family member announced it was “the best Christmas ever.” I quietly slipped out of the family room and cried somewhere else in my house. I could have made a scene and said biting words. I could have let the elephant in the room run rampant, but that would have been uncontrollably using the power of my grief. It wouldn’t have been meek. 

And most of all, be grateful. Remember the beautiful moments of the past and hold them in your heart with love. There is no room to grow with a bitter and angry heart. And there is no room for anger or bitterness in a grateful heart. Cherish every memory of a loved one who has arrived at eternity. It’s okay to reminisce; it’s okay to cry — you’re allowed to have feelings, but every hard moment should end in gratefulness and not anger. 

Have a Merry Christmas. While it will be hard, be comforted knowing you have survived one of your darkest days. 

19 comments

  • Lili you are wise beyond your years. Your mom and dad can be proud of the woman they have raised. God bless you and your family.

  • Lilli, this is absolutely Beautiful! You know how much I Love your dad, that’s right, Love your dad, because he still lives, in Heaven! I miss him terribly but I will not pretend that I could possibly miss him as much as you, your wonderful mom and your family. He was a great example to me of what a wonderful Christian man should be. A loving husband, father, and friend. Thank you for this great reminder to be grateful and not bitter. I will try to live by these words, especially when future losses is disappointments occur. I choose to remember your dad with that beaming, contagious smile! Love you Lilli! Gags

  • Thank you Lilli! Grief does rip through our life. This is my 3rd Christmas without my husband and I know that pain but would not give up the joy he brought to my life.
    We know to be grateful in all circumstances, to trust our God, but when this powerful grief hits —it is devastating! I love what you said, “And most of all, be grateful. Remember the beautiful moments of the past and hold them in your heart with love.” You spread your charm and Love this holiday season! God Bless You!

  • Lilli, that was so raw, encouraging, beautiful and eloquent altogether in one place. Thank you , and we miss your Dad a lot. His ❤️ And passion for the Gospel lives on in the 5 of you, your future spouses and the grandkids. Thank you for putting your heart on paper for us to share and celebrate the Truth.

  • Sharon Fredericksen

    Your words are beautiful and express what a lot of us have experienced. To cherish memories bring comfort, even with tears.

  • God bless you, Lilli, and Merry Christmas! I know your dad is so proud of you all. 🙂 Thank you for these words. I lost both of my parents in the last year, 9 months apart. While they were older and I knew the day would come when God would call them Home, it has not been any easier. I am forever grateful that we have the hope and joy of knowing we will all be together again some day soon!

  • So wise and generous. I have often heard it said that your greatest pain is your greatest ministry. But it takes an immense amount of courage to step into it. What you do with it… is your testimony. And what a beautiful testimony this is. Praying for you all for this 2nd Christmas closer to being united once again!

  • Patti Stigman (Kirsten Nisslys mom)

    WOW!!!!!! This is amazing Lili, I know your dad is bursting with pride to see the wisdom of his little girl!! What a blessing you are to your mom and all who know you. Thank you for these inspiring words and may God bless you !

    • Lillian Abbatacola

      Thank you Mrs Stigman, and thank you for raising someone who loves my momma so well 🙂 i had a class with Micah this semester. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Thanks for this…
    “perfecting the Thanksgiving gravy while singing 80s love songs to my mom”
    I already sing 80s songs and Christmas songs to Lisa, but now I have a new goal.
    Love to you and the fam from ATX!
    Mr Starc

  • Just beautiful Lilli! You are living out 2 Cor 1:3-4, reciprocal ministry principal. So wise to know that even in grief we don’t have free reign to act upon the hurt in our hearts- we belong to Christ. I love your example of self control and kindness to slip out of the room and not take offense when the unintentional hurtful words still hurt. May God continue to bind up your broken heart like only He can do. Love each and every one of you Abbatacolas.

    Thankful for our awesome memories in Israel with you and Pastor Marc.

  • Lili… My name is Lee Bason and I had the privilege of knowing your Dad. I am Flip & Susan Flippen’s business partner.

    I’ve reflected often on the precious memories I have of your Dad and the too few times I had to visit with him. Of course, the Wells’s and I seem to bring up him and your family in every conversation and prayer of thanksgiving. I’m grateful for everything you wrote, but most impacted by how you handled the unintended insensitivity of a family member…because it wouldn’t have been “meek” to have handled it any other way. That’s exactly what your Dad would’ve done!

    God willing, I hope to meet you and your family someday. I hope you’ll reach out to me if I can ever be of service. I hope there is something I can do, because I owe your Dad a lot.

    Love and blessings,
    Lee

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