Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grief and the Holidays

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Right now, when it seems everyone is making plans to purchase a turkey or ham and making lists of Christmas presents to pick up for their friends and family, many in our offices are facing a holiday season without a particular loved one for the first time. Whether it’s a grandmother, brother, aunt, or beloved friend, death has not been a stranger to us lately.

As I talk to my coworkers about their losses and my family about the recent death of my Aunt Shirley, a few thoughts, realizations, and hopes have come to mind for which I will be in prayer the next several weeks. First, this holiday season will feel different, no matter how much we might want to stick to the same schedule or traditions. For instance, my Aunt Shirley was not only known for helping my grandmother generously prepare Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, but she moderated fun post-meal activities like trivia games and our rowdy and hilarious “Everything-Under-$10-White-Elephant-Gift-Swap.” Particularly endearing memories to me are that we always made sure my beloved but oft-teased cousin Stuart got the worst gift. Aunt Shirley would have to cut off the bargaining, maneuvering, and wrestling for weirdly shaped gifts that turned out to be bizarre tools or a strange kitchen utensil. I will treasure these fun memories in my heart as a time of happiness untouched with this sadness and loss. However, I know that even if this tradition continues, we need to give ourselves permission not to strive to do it the same way that my Aunt Shirley did. She is irreplaceable, as is her particular type of humor, and we need to give space for others to adapt, change, or cease traditions that we know in our hearts will be different without her presence.

Second, I hope that families facing grief during the holidays will acknowledge the elephant in the room. We all know it will be hard to eat Christmas dinner with one less seat at the table, and all that represents. It is natural and healthy to cry, to remember, to tell stories, and let others know how we are feeling. Telling stories is how we carry our loved ones with us after they have passed. Stories remind us that Aunt Shirley, Brother Bill, Grandmother Gogo, and Beloved Friend Gloria have joined the Cloud of Witnesses in a long line that have gone before and that we still have lessons to learn from their time with us. With the hope of Christ, we have faith that death is not the last word in their story.

Third, I pray that we make space for one another to grieve differently. Some might want to continue old traditions while others may find it unbearable. It could take multiple holiday seasons to find a normal rhythm again. Ultimately, we need to have a spirit of grace when we encounter one other, realizing that the healthiest way to grieve this loss is to be honest with one another about our feelings and make clear our love for our family and the deceased. This will probably feel like walking a tight rope for the first few holiday seasons, but with grace and love for one another in the spirit of our loving God, I know that we’ll make it together.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year while you remember your loved ones, present and departed.

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