Several years ago, I invited a dear friend and former pastor to join our family for Thanksgiving. A few years earlier, he had retired as full-time shepherd of the church where we were members. His wife had been killed in an auto accident six months before the holiday we were about to celebrate.
As a couple, he and his wife had attended many family gatherings. We had laughed together and cried together. He had married my children and buried my mom. As a family, we mourned with him for the loss of our dear friend and his precious wife of more than 50 years.
Nothing could have prepared me for that holiday. While I had experienced first holidays without loved ones before, I never anticipated the feelings, which I cannot explain in words, that occurred for me that day.
Perhaps it was because I tried to go around the storm her death had brought into my life. But it was on that holiday that I learned that any loss in our life has to be handled, not ignored.
I cannot go around, over or under the grief. I must go through it. Simply put, I cannot take a day off and pay no heed to a significant loss just because it is a holiday.
On that day, we did all the traditional things we had always done on Thanksgiving. The turkey, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes were scrumptious. But the person for whom we all grieved was missing.
There was an empty chair to remind me that the lovely friend who had enriched my life with laughter, depth and wisdom was no longer with us.
While memories of my friend will never leave me, she was not there to give a hug, annoy me with her speed in solving holiday puzzles, or talk about her life as a pastor’s wife while I simply sat and listened for hours. She was missing and not returning. I faced the finality of her death that day.
Holidays often bring reminders of our loved ones. With the first sight of bright colored pumpkins and advertisements for Christmas programs, many who have lost a loved one feel sadness. Some want to skip right over the holidays and begin a new year.
I read recently in About.com’s Death and Dying section an article called “Getting Through the Holidays.”
“The ebb and flow of grief can overwhelm us with waves of memories, especially during the holidays,” writes the author, Angela Morrow, a hospice nurse. “Grief will also magnify the stress that is already a part of the holiday season.”
We often think of grief as the death of a loved one. But consider some other types of grief we might bear.
What about the loss of a job? Many can relate to that loss during these tough economic times. Or relocating from your hometown to a new city to retire and begin a new life. What about the betrayal of a person you trusted? Or, falling on tough economic times and wondering how to explain to your family that gifts will be much less than the bounteous ones before?
For all of us, grief comes in different shapes, sizes and patterns. Grief is unique to our own circumstances.
In her article, Morrow gave some strategies for survival. Perhaps you or a loved one are going through a season of grief and these strategies may help you.
- Offer yourself some grace. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to be sad.
- Get proper rest, and don’t take on more than you can handle. If alone time is what you need, follow your instincts. If you need the affection of others, seek it out.
- Ask for help if you need it. If you can’t seem to get your shopping done, ask for assistance. The holidays are a great time to find a counselor you trust with whom you can talk about what is bothering you.
- If your pocketbook cannot live up to holidays past, be honest with your loved ones. More than likely, they will understand. It is the gift of you they want anyway.
- Remember, this too will pass. You will survive.
While we never forget the loved ones we have lost, or the grief we have endured, with time we can make new and happy memories.
Two years after our pastor friend lost his wife to tragedy, we celebrated a happy event with him. He became reacquainted with an old friend who had lost her husband, and they married and shared many happy years together as a couple.
While every sorrow does not end exactly this way, with time, sadness can be replaced with new dreams and new experiences if we are willing to accept the help we need. We must remember our life is not over yet, even though we have experienced sadness, shock and loss.
We all have great value to add to this wonderful world in which we live after we work through our grief and move into the next phase of our lives.
PAM RAINEY is a 40-year Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at RpmRny@cs.com or 940-367-1188.