No matter where we are in our grief journey, or how long ago our loved one died, when holidays come, we are reminded of how special they were in our lives.
How can we possibly celebrate the holidays without them?
To help understand what it means to celebrate our loved ones, let me share a personal story.
When my husband and I moved to Washington, it was because we wanted to spend our retirement years enjoying boating in the San Juan Islands. We moved into a community where others also loved cruising, joined their yacht club and spent many happy hours with people who became good friends.
When my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, without a moment’s hesitation, a friend started a list of people who would be willing to take him to his radiation treatments 5 days a week.
I was asked once if I thought the only way we would discover God was through pain or loss.
I’ve thought a lot about that. Surely it doesn’t take tragedies to experience God. And yet, I think it does. Maybe it’s only when we are overwhelmed, broken, and “poor in spirit” – when we cannot find the resources within ourselves – that we are ready to acknowledge our need for God.
We are physically born in pain. And perhaps that is the only way we can be born spiritually as well.
Pain wears many faces: the pain of sorrow and loss, emptiness, and disillusion; the pain of guilt and shame, rejection and abandonment. Within all forms of emotional pain, we find ourselves struggling to find the answers and resources we need to satisfy our yearning.
When we have lost something of great importance, our lives are forever changed.
With most unwanted changes, we make an adjustment and move on; life resumes and basically remains the same. It is when something of great significance and deep emotional attachment has been taken away, that our life becomes radically changed.
Losses are personal.
Nobody but you can determine how important a loss is. A child who has just lost a beloved pet or toy experiences sadness at a deeper level than we might think. Their attachment to that pet and toy was extremely important to them. It is essential that we respect a child’s grief and help them through it instead of dismissing it.
“This can’t be happening. There was so little warning. He had been so healthy. There was no time to prepare. I’m numb. What do I do now?”
This begins Chapter 1 in my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World.
Our first reaction of any kind to an unexpected tragedy, crisis, or loss is usually shock and disbelief. We are unprepared for the enormity of how our world has been turned upside down and inside out.
The world we knew has just ended and we struggle to accept what is happening. Denial storms into our existence as we try to wrap our brain around this loss.
Even when we are prepared for a loss that is the result of a long-term illness, it brings with it sadness and sorrow. The illness itself might have been premature and unexpected. They were too young to get sick; he was so healthy, etc. Whether we are prepared or not, grief demands its own time frame to work through the tangles of disbelief and unreality.
What situation do you find intolerable or unbearable – job, marriage, family concerns, health, etc.?
Perhaps you are trying to become more flexible as you age, adjusting to life as it is today instead of what used to be.
I listen to the poignant stories of people who are struggling to make ends meet, or overcome the loss of a loved one, or are re-fitting life to meet new health concerns. I include myself in many of these stories. And I tell myself as I tell others:
Nothing will change or get better until we first accept.
People’s first response when I say let go and accept is, “You must be kidding. Accept that my life is falling apart – accept that I have run into another setback?”
Life is going great when bam! The earth quakes and a landslide comes tumbling down, burying everything you had worked so hard on.
And without warning, as if on some internal cue, you are assaulted with doubts and misgivings. Buried under an avalanche, hidden from view, out of sight are all the things you have accomplished. You no longer consider and appreciate all the things you have done and are capable of doing. The rubble is not just life happening, it is a reminder of the bad choices you made and how inadequate you are.
In the blink of an eye, an old and unwanted visitor has just returned.
The voice is loud and clear. “You just won’t learn – you will never amount to anything, no matter how hard you try.”
What words do you use that lift another up or tear them down?
Words! They become the paint and paintbrushes to open the windows of our soul. They are the toolboxes of our brain used to convey our thoughts and innermost feelings.
We construct and sculpt conversations with creativity and imagination in order to share with another how we feel – to tell our stories. We want others to understand the difficulties we are going through and emphasize with our losses. We want them to be happy for us and rejoice with us our successes.
Words become the connecting tissue, linking old experiences with the new, melding together the past with what we are experiencing today.
The key to making good choices is the ability to accurately assess what is happening in the moment.
If our responses to people and events are based on old, outdated and inappropriate past reactions, it will be more difficult to become proactive.
Identify, Challenge and Replace
My last three posts have dealt with emotions and how patterns of thinking and feeling are established. Understanding how and why we feel the way we do can help us take advantage of opportunities. When anxiety, fear, or anger constantly overwhelm us, we will have difficulty finding the solutions we need.
How do we know if our emotional responses are based on the here and now instead of past experiences? We do that by becoming aware of our patterns of behavior and challenging the logic and reliability of the automatic thoughts and beliefs associated with them.
Some emotions are more troubling than others, such as anger and hate. If you find yourself constantly feeling angry and resentful you need to explore their origins.
Such strong emotions over time erode your ability to think productively, make good decisions and accomplish your goals. And even more troubling, there are serious consequences to your overall physical and mental health.
How negative emotions start
But where do these underlying and constant feelings of irritation, anger and hatred come from? Why have they become my typical response to life?