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By Norris Burkes 19 Dec 2021
We are only one weekend away from Christmas which probably has at least a few of us wanting to skip the seasonal holiday.
I get it. If only we could hibernate until mid-January, right?
But for some of us, the feeling is not just about the holiday hustle. The blues have come for us because we are among those who have lost a loved one in the past few years.
In 2020, I lost my best friend of 45 years, Roger. He was like a brother, even closer. We shared everything from education to careers to family gatherings.
Then, two months later, I lost my actual brother, Milton, to COVID. So, like some of you, I find my holiday bag full of grief instead of gifts.
As a hospice chaplain, I’m privileged to work with bereavement counselors who have, over the years, recommended antidotes for the December doldrums. I’ve shared these tips with many, and today I share them with you.
First, the counselors tell me that nearly everything the grieving person feels in the first year of a loss is very likely normal. It’s natural for the grief-stricken to exhibit low energy, flatline emotion, poor concentration, and a desire to withdraw socially.
Even with that overwhelming desire to withdraw, many folks admit that they don’t really want to miss the holidays. But they feel that celebrating so soon after the death of a loved one is disrespectful toward the memory of the one they’ve lost.
They try to avoid parties because they don’t want to be a “downer,” but they’ll drudge through them as their duty to family or co-workers. However, the social distancing makes it easier to avoid the “mandatory fun” of the office parties.
My hospice advisors also remind me that it’s OK for grieving people to limit their holiday participation to the most modest amount possible. Don’t let anyone insist that we assuage our hurt by keeping Christmas in the same big way.
Following their advice, be determined to find the simple way of doing things. No one says we have to do everything with everybody. Some folks find it helpful to place signs on their mirror or refrigerator that remind them not to overdo, over-shop or over-cook.
If this is the second or third year since your loss, you might be ready to restart the holidays. If so, begin creatively. For instance, I plan to put a special plate at the holiday table for the ones I lost. I’ve even heard of instances where the children ask to have that special plate at their table.
Or perhaps we might dare ask family and friends to bring an ornament for your tree that reminds them of the one lost. Encourage them to tell a story while they hang it.
Whether this is your first year in loss or your 10th year, there are some things that work for nearly everyone, even if they aren’t grieving.
Those things include being clear with your family about what you want from them in terms of emotional support. Be clear because, as they say, “mind-reading is best left up to fortune tellers.”
Finally, when the New Year rolls in, there are at least two ways to avoid the melancholies of January.
First, volunteer somewhere. Since many will limit their charitable giving to December, shelters and kitchens can find it nearly impossible to fill their volunteer needs in January.
Second, get away if you can, preferably to a sunny place. You’d be pleasantly surprised to find out how cheap January travel can be.
Finding hope beyond your grief is the toughest journey you will take. My prayer for you is that you might begin that recovery and find that next Christmas will bring you “good tidings of great joy.”
Contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.