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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. In less than a week, that list grew to a hundred volunteers. I was overwhelmed with such love and caring. They were there for me after my husband’s death as well, helping me make that difficult transition.
A year after his death, I wanted to find a way to thank and honor both our friends and my husband. I decided to invite those friends over for a dinner celebration. As we offered toasts to him and shared humorous and meaningful stories, we laughed and cried together. It was a powerful healing time for everyone.
What I learned that night was that even in our sadness and grief we need to celebrate our loved ones, whether at holidays or special occasions of any kind. Share remembrances when appropriate. Or simply hold them in a sweet spot in your memories. It doesn’t mean you persistently bring them up in conversations but are comfortable talking about them.
Working with individuals going through grief, I offered similar suggestions to them. One lady who lost her husband was going on an annual cruise with friends and she wondered how she would make it without him, especially at mealtimes. I suggested she set a place for him at the table, and before they started eating, she would ask everyone to join her in a toast to her husband. She then asked them to share some of their stories of the happy times they all had together.
On her return, she told me how successful it had been and how it allowed people to share what they were feeling without fear of adding to her discomfort. Having the place setting started the conversation that ended with a celebration.
However you introduce the process, whether you have a place setting or not, what is important is that you feel comfortable talking about your loved ones and encourage the sharing of stories, especially in those early months and years. It opens the door for others to share their memories and the love they had for a friend. When you are open to discussion, you offer the opportunity for others to share as well.
Celebrating is remembering the good times.
It is recognizing and acknowledging all we are thankful for. Celebrating is showing appreciation in some way for the wonderful things we have been given. As we do, we feel less distress and more peace.
Holidays give us an opportunity to reflect on all those blessings we have received. Your loved one was one of those blessings.
Make a list of all the things you are thankful for and keep them in front of you as a reminder. Here are some of mine.
- It is the balm that covers disappointments, shortcomings and failures. It allows us to see that problems are not the end of the world. There are solutions; we can accept what we cannot change. There are many things over which we have no control. It takes the sting out of grief and helps turn losses into comforting memories.
- What would we do if we couldn’t plan, work and achieve? Work gives us purpose and meaning and brings satisfaction and happiness. Find ways to make boring jobs more interesting. Help others who are less fortunate. Share what you are good at with others and encourage them to discover their skills and talents.
- Every day I choose how I respond to life. What a great gift! It is in the challenges of life that I have the opportunity to grow and become a more genuine person. I can accept, let go and look for options. I can choose to solve my problems or allow them to become obstacles in my life. I can accept my shortcomings as well as my strengths.
- Friends, family and relationships. I am thankful for the life I shared with my husband. I am thankful for the son I lost to cancer. I am thankful for all the friends and relationships I have had and continue to have. While death has taken people I loved, God has given me new relationships; and old relationships grow in depth, meaning and love.
- The ability to create. Every day we have the chance to create something new – a new way of doing things, a new way to use our talents and abilities. When I stop comparing myself to others, I can develop the aptitudes I have been given and help others discover and develop theirs.
May you enjoy the joy and peace that passes all understanding this Christmas.
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