‘Tis the season! ‘Tis the season for songs, like “Joy to the World,” “Silver Bells,” and “Silent Night.” It’s the season for dusting off old Christmas movies, such as “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and my favorite, “The Bishop’s Wife.” Tis the season for anticipation, hope and excitement.
For most of us, tis the season for words like Joy, Happy, and Merry! But for others who have lost loved ones, particularly couples who have suffered the death of a child, it can be an emotional roller coaster. For some, the joy of the Christmas gives way to dread and a desire to sleep from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to January 2nd. For those bereaved parents, the season can be particularly difficult because not only do they have their own expectations of what this time of year should look like, but they are also carrying grief.
Loss is always painful, and during the holidays, it can seem crushing. The thought of going through another Christmas (or the first Christmas) without their loved one is just too much to bear. C.S. Lewis wrote “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain.” The Christmas season can act as a megaphone!
This Christmas can be full of bittersweet moments for bereaved couples, and it can also be an opportunity to honor and remember loved ones. This past Sunday, I had the privilege of speaking at the 4th annual Candlelighting Remembrance Program for the Morgantown chapter of Compassionate Friends. Compassionate Friends is a support group for those who have lost a child or children. It was a very emotional and touching experience. Kathy said it best when she posted on Facebook after we got back home, “…My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones, especially a child. During this season, we should all try to be aware of those around us who have lost someone! There are hurting people all around us. We need to be sensitive and compassionate in the midst of this season, and minister to those whom God crosses our path with.” Well said Honey!
I would like to share some strategies that may help couples that have experienced the loss of a child. We will look at the purposeful things we can do for self, for the marriage, and for the season.
SELF:Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb emotional distress. Chemicals will intensify depressive feelings.Take care of yourself physically. Try to eat healthy foods, which will give you strength. Too much sugar and carbs can also intensify depression. Try to get some exercise. The by-product of increased heart rate is naturally stress-reducing and can work to decrease depression. It can also promote better rest/sleep!Get plenty of rest. Winston Churchill once said “Fatigue makes cowards out of us all.” Don’t neglect your rest.Give yourself permission to mourn. Talk about your child--you don’t have to avoid talking about him/her. Read books, journal, and seek support by connecting with others.Don’t hibernate or isolate. Force yourself to get out, even if only for a short time. Accept the difficulty of this time of year, and know that this season will pass.
WITH OTHERS:Be compassionate and patient with your self and your spouse.Remember that husbands and wives tend to grieve differently. There is no right way or wrong way.Communication is essential. Talk to each other about your grief.Set boundaries. Explain to your family and friends what you can and cannot do during this time of year (or any time of year). Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.Reach out to others by seeing movies with same-sex friends. Reach out to those who might be alone this year. Reach out to a pastor, counselor, church, or friend if negative thoughts get fierce.
IN THE SEASON: Prepare. Know that emotions can attack at any time. Be proactive, and be ready.Lower your expectations of what the season should look like. Movies and songs can give an unrealistic picture of the holiday. All might not be merry and bright this year, and most likely won’t be perfect.If it is difficult to be in large crowds, don’t go to the mall--shop online instead!If it causes too much pain to put up old ornaments or trimmings, put them up another year.Have a Plan B. If you and your spouse are at a function and it is getting difficult, have a code word to use so you can politely excuse yourselves.
A Celtic Prayer
Do not hurry as you walk with grief,It does not help the journey;Walk slowly, pausing often.Do not hurry as you walk with grief,Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden,Swiftly forgive and let Christ speak for you unspoken words,Unfinished conversations will be resolved in Christ.Be not disturbed,Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.If it is you, be gentle with yourself, swiftly forgive,Walk slowly, pause often, take timeBe gentle as you walk with grief.Amen.
If you and/or your spouse are struggling this season, seek help. The Compassionate Friends have a wonderful support network. You can get more information at www.compassionatefriends.org. Or, seek guidance from a pastor, therapist, or close friend. You don’t have to go through this alone. Let others be there for you. And for those who are not having the same struggle, be sensitive, patient, compassionate, and look for ways to minister to others. Hurting people are everywhere!