The holidays are a difficult part of the year for many people. The days are getting longer and the leaves are fading and falling. We’re reminded of those we love who are not with us anymore.
In September, my brother died. His health had been poor in the months leading up to his death. He had recently lost part of a leg due to Diabetes, and he had congestive heart failure. I take comfort in the knowledge that he is no longer suffering. He is whole again and I believe my father was in heaven waiting for him with open arms. For my brother “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21: 4).
On the other hand, the anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death is less than two weeks away. He left two teen-aged children behind. He was healthy and living the good life. My husband and he were extremely close, being born only two years apart, and my husband was the older of the two. Both of them got into a great deal of mischief as they traveled around the U.S. with their hippy mom in the early 70’s; it was always a joy to hear them reminisce about their adventures.
As the anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death approaches, I’m noticing my husband becoming more forgetful, lethargic, and somber. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t worked in a couple months. I think that in addition to grieving for his brother, he’s still grieving the loss of the job he had for twenty years. His career was an important part of his identity and now that he doesn’t have steady employment, he doesn’t feel valued. He’s dealing with double whammy.
In Sunday School today, we watched a video about not dwelling in the past and “embracing today”. The video showed people running from dark, gray places like small apartments and laundromats to the beach where they all stood gathered for a beautiful sunrise. The narrator of the video then stated that it’s not good to dwell on painful events from the past because this makes it impossible to embrace today. While I definitely agree with the message, no suggestions for how to “embrace today” were given, and it seemed like he was saying that people should just get over their grief. If only it were that easy.
For many people, grief is cyclical. They spiral up and down, in and out of grief as new positive memories are made and feelings of loss resurface especially around the holidays. A friend of mine said that when her mother died several years before, it was like someone had shot her in the chest with a shotgun. She said that even though the hole is still there, it becomes smaller with each passing year. I think this is is a good analogy to keep in mind when we’re around those who are still grieving the loss of a loved one, especially as we approach anniversaries or the holidays.
Although we may be tempted to tell someone who is mourning a loss to just cheer up or take comfort in the fact that the person “is in a better place”, this typically just makes things worse. Platitudes can’t take the place of asking the person how they’re feeling and patiently listening to them. Those grieving a loss need to be able to put their feelings into words or find other outlets for their grief such as in hobbies like painting or gardening. It is only in these ways that they can come to terms with their loss, smile instead of crying when thinking of their loved ones, and start truly enjoying life again.