Remembering Deceased Loved Ones at Christmas
December 20, 2017

“I recall now two of my friends, who although no longer among the living are still alive for me and always will be.”
Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship

People die. This is one of the thorniest problems in the philosophy of friendship, as in the philosophy of human life itself.

Perhaps the most unnatural aspect of the monstrous reality called death is that it separates what should never be separated. Here I don’t mean body and soul; I mean friends. Given the nature of true friendship, how can it ever come to an end?

For many, Christmas time brings the terrible separation home to us each year. Of course this shows just how special Christmas time is. This time of year we turn our thoughts to the things that matter most; we simply want to be with those we love. The absence of dear ones is more real to us than ever.

Aelred has a remarkable and simple approach. I don’t think he sees an ongoing friendship as simply a matter of fact. It is in part a matter of choice. We can choose to continue the relationship.

My friends are still alive. For me. And always will be. I choose to continue to live in their presence. To share a life together.

This does not mean an unhealthy holding on—which could indeed keep us from attending to others around us in this life.

It is always about presence. Especially today, we need to focus on living in the presence of those who are right under our own roof, or next door. At the same time, we can choose to live in the presence of the deceased. This takes faith, and, as always, it takes looking to the good of the other.

Christmas is never ultimately about what has happened in the past. It is about persons and realities that are truly present today. And always will be.

~ ~ ~

St. Aelred (1109-1167) was the abbot of the English Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx. He is most known for his treatise On Spiritual Friendship.

Image: Burying my father.

Leave a Reply


  1. Thank you for your thoughts on remembering our loved ones and friends. Regards to your dear mother and you and yours as you choose to live in the presence of your dad. . on this eve of the anniversary of my husband’s passing, I choose it also.

    1. Linda, We will remember you and your husband today! It is actually also my father’s birthday today. With prayer and best wishes for a Merry Christmas!

  2. This is so timely as I have just returned from a weekend trip that took me from Virginia to South Dakota to attend the funeral of my oldest brother. It was a time of remembering and a time of renewing connections with those who were close to me as a child. Thank you for your insightful writings. I love it that you dig into the historical writings for wisdom that would escape most of us in the bustle of modern life.

    1. Helen, You are very welcome. We will pray for your brother and your whole family. Thank you for sharing this, and have a very Merry Christmas.

  3. Timothy and Grace Bratt

    As we slowly turn, from facing in one direction, the “land of the living”, as it were, to facing the land to which we will arrive in the fulness of time and by the grace of God, we affix our vision more and more on those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of Faith; how natural it is, then, to incrementally spend more time with those, as we ourselves gain in years.

    1. Tim and Grace, You have put it so beautifully. It is a slow, and often difficult, turn. But it is a such an important part of our own journey to make that turn… Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. “My friends are still alive. For me. And always will be. I choose to continue to live in their presence. To share a life together.”

    This is beautiful. Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    1. Malia, And a Merry Christmas to you and yours too!

  5. Kathleen C. Schmiedicke

    John, thank you for your post and the gentle reminder of “living in the presence of those who are right under our own roof.”

    I believe I recognize the casket–a meaningful work of love from Strong Oaks Woodshop. We buried my mother in a similar casket made by three of her grandsons at Strong Oaks Woodshop, with lining and pillow made by a daughter-in-law–acts of love.

    1. Kathleen, You are right! That lovingly-made casket was a beautiful part of our burying my father. We remain so grateful for that act of friendship from Strong Oaks…

  6. Thank you, John, both for your thoughts and for sharing your special photo. As I may have mentioned to you, my father died a few years back, on Christmas Day. I appreciate your words this week in a unique way. Merry Christmas.

    1. Michael, I had forgotten that you shared that. May it be a special, extra grace for you this year on Christmas, even while still a suffering. Much love to the whole family!

  7. Thank you.
    I miss my Husband every day, especially around the Holiday’s.
    Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year
    to one and All, In Christ Jesus.

    1. Thank you. And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours too!