Grief can be insidious. Years after you think you've worked through your sorrow and pain, it sneaks back and hits you so hard it takes your breath away.

The triggers for the grief don't have to be a sad memory. In fact, for me, they are happy memories of times I shared with my deceased loved ones. Seeing a combine taking off wheat in one of our fields reminds me of all the harvests I helped my farmer dad with before his death 22 years ago. Making my mom's molasses cookies recipe brings to mind how much I still miss her seven years after she died.

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Music, though, is what delivers the biggest punch in the gut. The other Sunday I was driving along in the car, merrily singing along with Christmas songs on the radio when the strains of "Little Drummer Boy" began to fill the air. I abruptly stopped singing and started thinking about Rich, my brother, who died 25 years ago at age 40. The song was a favorite of his when he was young.

Tears started falling as I thought about how much I missed him and wished he was here, so he could tease me about all of the things big brothers tease their sisters about, even when they're both in their 60s. Hearing "Little Drummer Boy" also started me thinking about how other Christmas songs like "Holly, Jolly Christmas" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" seem anything but that when you've lost someone. I learned that in December 1992 when Rich was very ill and the next Christmas, the first without him.

Grief

One of the hard realities of life I learned during Rich's illness and death and that was confirmed with the death of my parents is that what we care about the most is what we miss the most and hurts our hearts the most when they're gone. That's the price we pay for loving, and the tears that fell when "Little Drummer Boy" was playing that Sunday were testimony to that. I, who seldom show emotion, learned after the death of my loved ones that it is OK to cry-even many years later-because we miss them. And if we don't feel like celebrating the holidays the first few years-or longer-after a loved one dies, that's all right. Eventually, we will be ready to celebrate and be happy-most of the time. There will be times, like that Sunday a few weeks ago when the grief hits hard and brings us to our knees.

I know I wouldn't have it any other way, though, because the alternative would be never having known and loved my brother, dad and mom. That, and the birth of the one who loves us even more, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, celebrated Dec. 25, is what I cling to in those dark moments when grief reappears. It is the birth of God's son who came into the world to save us from sin that will make a heavenly reunion of all our loved ones possible. Indeed, that will be a reason to sing joyfully.