As it always does, the Christmas season has rolled around to us again. This year a good friend of mine is experiencing his first 'empty' Christmas. His children either live too far away or are too busy with their own plans and lives to offer him comfort. He faces this emptiness alone. I shared with him some tools to help him stand as if he were on an island of peace.
I found these tool myself when my family faced their first 'empty' holiday. I remember spending a lot of time in thought and loads of energy toward finding ways to help us all gets through what we all dreaded. Mom had died in April that year, and we faced them all in quick succession – Easter holiday, her birthday that summer, Thanksgiving, and finally the biggie – Christmas! She was the backbone of our family, and we were reminded each holiday that she was gone!
That December I attended a ceremony held at a funeral home. They hosted services for anyone who lost a loved one recently. It was a welcoming "place where grief and Christmas could come together, safely and appropriately." The service was lovely – not overly sentimental but still warm and meaningful. Yes, I cried but I also laughed, and that really felt okay. For that moment, I was on an island, at peace with it all – being happy with memories, being heartbroken for the loss.
It just felt right to be in a place where, for those few hours, tears and joy were acceptable. These were the norm, for that short while at least. This was a place where you did not have to worry about upsetting someone or ruining their good time - because all were in the same boat called grief searching for our islands of peace. There were tips and suggestions for ways to cope and make it through what is often the grimmest times of the year – because it isn't just one day but a whole season. I took some of the pamphlets "I can't face the holidays!” and gave them to friends who had also lost precious loved ones.
Friends and acquaintances, co-workers and even relatives often don't know what to say and stare at you from afar. We usually respond to "how are you" with "Okay." There it ends, but what we could say instead is, "I'm doing okay, but it is really tough right now." We might actually task others offering "If there is anything I can do, let me know" with something that would reduce any burden. If you really want to have home baked goodies, for example, maybe invite the person who offers over to help you cook one afternoon, or let them take you out to the mall, go for coffee. Don't be shy about finding your island of peace.
Grief saps our energies, our minds, our bodies, and spirits. It's a time when we need to give ourselves permission to accept all of the gifts others offer and to provide ourselves permission to be happy and sad at the same time. Many of us are going through that kind of time. Grief is about loss after all. December is the time many of us, no matter what our faith, face the pressures and dilemmas of celebration and feasting, to be seen going about life as if nothing has happened.
When we grieve, we need to remove as much of this pressure as we can. Change things if that makes it easier for you. Change a lot, a little, or do things the same way, whatever your choices make it comfortable for you. Talk with your family. Do whatever brings you ease and a sense of well-being. It's okay to be sad and happy at the same time. You must do what you need to do to find your island of peace. You are not losing your mind. It is the season and that time of year. You will get through it. I'm going to close this entry with one of the readings from that evening:
In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we will remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we will remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we will remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we will remember them.
In the beginning of the year and in its end, we will remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we will remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we will remember them.
So long as we live, they shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
May the blessings of the season surround and comfort you. May you find your island of peace!
John T. Catrett, III, northeast Oklahoma Hospice Chaplain, has ridden more than a few roller coasters (literally and metaphorically) in this lifetime. He's on a lifelong journey walking in the joy of Lord while in the midst of sorrow, bathing in the light of the world in a dark society, and loving the adventure of it all. John counsels the bereaved, befriends the hurting, and shares the possibility of freedom with those who have almost given up on life, satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness.