Our holiday-season journey has begun. Though this year is unlike any other (please forgive this over-used phrase of our incomprehensible reality), we carry the expectations and traditions of all the years before. Holidays are all about tradition… ritual… returning to a place of cozy remembering.
It is that very reason that the holidays are often a most challenging time for those who grieve. The call to celebrate is a stark reminder of who is gone, what was lost, how everything is so different. This year, many of us hold very personal losses and fears and, at the same time, are overwhelmed by the unending losses that face our country and world. Our collective grief is numbing, exhausting, or filled with deep sadness. How do we enter this time of seasonal joy when joy might seem like a foreign concept?
As Bereavement Chaplain at the Hospital of St Raphael in New Haven, CT, I helped facilitate a yearly holiday program that honored loss in the midst of the seasons of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year. Folks found comfort in the acknowledgement of their loss and experienced compassion in supporting one another’s pain. This is how we humans heal from loss: acknowledgement, expression and compassion. Here are some ideas to support you on your journey these days, whether you’re grieving a death of a loved one or the great sadness of our times. Let us come together as community, with gratitude for the safety we offer each other and with hope for the days of healing ahead. Let the tender places that we touch, lead us toward the reality of Love that has never left our side.
Acknowledgement: Too often, losses are solitary, even disenfranchised, as folks move forward in their busy lives. Our current situation adds to that pattern and prohibits traditional services and rites. To take care of ourselves, its important to find ways to name and honor our loss. Open to Hope offers online support for all sorts of loss. Thanksgiving could be such a time by lighting a candle, stating what is in our heart and sharing a moment of silence. Even done alone, this acknowledgement moves our silent prayer further on its way into God’s care.
Expression: Journals, collage, house-cleaning or decorating – with intention, any activity can become an expression of our feelings. When we give ourselves permission to voice what’s inside, we enable healing’s tender hand. Poet and teacher Marj Hahne (www.marjhahne.com) is offering a 7 day series, “A Hole in the World: Writing the Elegy,” in December that supports a process of expression, click here if you want to check it out.
Compassion: Our capacity to care for another, to light a candle for their pain, for example, is an essential part of our humanity. Our choice to “suffer with” becomes a part of the healing that we all need… actions, prayer, donations, or small gestures make a difference. At the same time, our efforts of self-compassion are vital to support our grieving or overwhelmed hearts, particularly during the holiday season. I close with Sr Doris Klein’s words, as I offer my deepest gratitude for your place in my journey.
“We are the only ones who, with God, can truly hear our heart. Yes, we need outside witnesses and supportive others to companion us, but, ultimately, we must sit with ourselves on this dark shore and acknowledge the truths around us. We must be the voice in the night that says, “It’s going to be okay. I will stay here with you. I will not abandon you. I will not go away.”
With a grateful heart, Lisa