The holidays are approaching and the flurry of preparations is felt as we gear up for those wonderful times with family and friends. Memories of childhood celebrations flood our minds, and a feeling of contentment wraps ’round us as we turn our attention to holiday tasks. Following traditions brings continuity to our lives, and the memories may even evoke a giggle or two as we remember the hustle and bustle of past holidays, when cooks burned the turkey or decorated trees crashed to the floor.
Every family has cherished traditions that bring them together, whether it be religious in kind, or personal in nature.
“We always do this at our house,” is often heard amongst groups of children and grownups alike. It imparts a sense of belonging, acceptance, and a place to be that is yours to keep.
When someone dies, there is an empty chair at the holiday table, seen or unseen. A somber note clouds over the festivities, softening the gaiety, as painful memories of the loved one crowd the mind in the midst of celebration.
Mourning a loved one clashes deeply with the spontaneity of fun-filled holiday fare. It can provoke overwhelming grief and sadness, making celebration nearly impossible for the griever(s), and rendering others helpless in the wake of such pain.
Despite the pain, a healing balm can come from those joyous festivities we celebrate with our loved ones. The noise and commotion can be overwhelming to anyone, but especially to the broken-hearted, whose loved one is not there to share this day with them. Those present try their best to “cheer up” the griever, to no avail.
Helping the bereaved isn’t about cheering up someone; it’s about sharing their grief so as to lighten the burden. Here are some wonderful gifts you can give a friend or family member who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
o Listening is a magical balm that eases the pain of loss. Listen with quiet attention, allowing the person time to tell the complete story. It’s said that no one wants to talk about grief. True, but for one exception. Those in mourning want and need to talk about it as much as others will listen. Healing begins when a friend sits down and gently asks to hear their story.
o Sharing memories of the loved one, serious and funny, is a blessed cord that keeps the living connected emotionally with those they’ve lost. Humor doesn’t bring dishonor; rather it gives life to the memory of one whose laughter we remember. Anecdotes from those who also miss our loved one are a reminder that people touch many lives, and are remembered in special ways.
o The comfort of touch gives immeasurable solace to those who mourn. Holding someone’s hand connects you and imparts reassurance that one is not alone. An arm around the shoulders draws one close, allowing contact that grants security and peace of mind. And hugs are always in order. Drawing someone into your arms is more than comfort; it says, “I feel your pain and healing will come.”
o Crying together cleanses both the mind and the soul. Tears are a release and an acknowledgment that sadness and pain need expression. When someone cries, cry with them. It brings full circle the joy experienced in knowing the deceased.
As the holidays approach each year, you will be reminded of that difficult time when you first lost your loved one. Yet, celebrating the familiar traditions with people who love you brings a sense of quiet peace and joy.
I want to leave you with a quotation from the book You Better Recognize! By Valerie Rose (Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, MN. 2002).
“Love is what’s in the room with you at the holidays if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Bobby, age 5
Embrace hope. The joy of celebration and the peace of contentment can be your healing balm.