A Blue Season
No matter how beautiful the Christmas carol, for those grieving a loss, sometimes the music just seems to stop. The season’s hectic pace and noisy celebration can be almost unbearable.
For those facing one less stocking on the mantel or an empty chair at the table, there are many prescriptions for bolstering one’s spirits in the midst of grief. But don’t expect a one-size-fits- all solution, cautions Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care Manager, Deb Kinnan.
“Everyone’s capacity, support system and experience is different. People look for someone to say, ‘Do this, then that, but it doesn’t quite work that way,” she notes.
Pikes Peak Hospice offers both one-on-one and group grief counseling for family members for up to 13 months after a death.
That said, some people resist reaching out for help; they feel a stigma asking for emotional support.
“I’m OK, I’m not crazy,” they’ll say. And that’s OK. Some will be alright in three months – but for others it’s three years,” she explains.
So what steps can one’s bereaved friends and family take to deal with the stress of holiday social occasions? The expectations and sadness?
Grief is often a delayed reaction, following funeral arrangements, legal matters and family times.
“For the first few weeks, there are a lot of things to do. It’s often not for a month or two that the dust settles and the impact of loss hits,” she notes.
Rabbi Mel Glazer, received his Doctor of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary. Today, he heads the Temple Shalom congregation and works as a grief counselor and author. Glazer lost his own father as a 12-year-old boy. As a result, he knows that grieving is a journey, an episode that must be addressed and supported by friends and family in order to heal.
“Many times well-wishers’ comments don’t help. When my father died, I was numb at first. People would say things like, “God needed him more than you did,” I’d get upset,” he admits, noting that permanent damage can be done to one’s relationship with God as a result.
Instead, he suggests “completing the relationship” with loved ones lost through a funeral service.
“Without a service, whatever one’s spiritual persuasion, something’s unfinished. You don’t need to end or deny the loss; you need to complete it,” he explains.
Whether right away or months after death, he recommends saying to a deceased loved one, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. I love you.” And family members owe it to themselves to meet face to face – not on Facebook or via Skype.
In a chapter entitled, “Empty Chair at the Holiday Table,” Glazer recommends leaving a chair at the holiday table where a parent, grandparent or child would have sat.
“The empty chair symbolizes the emptiness that fills our hearts with such sadness,” he says. “We realize we have lost something profound.” He further recommends inviting those around the table to tell stories, to laugh about the past, cry together and to share memories.
“Your loved one will live on in your memories. At the same time, you realize you are still alive and can still be vibrant,” he assures.
Local educator Christa Mahoney lives a continent away from her family in Germany. Sitting around a table together isn’t possible so when her parents died, Mahoney’s siblings decided that they would honor their parents’ wish to “stay close” differently.
“We speak by phone every week. It’s been so helpful to share our stories, to stay connected,” she says, adding that even after participating in a Pikes Peak Hospice support group, her grieving process lasted two years.
Other paths to dealing with intense sadness and grieving around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah or other observed holidays may reflect individual tastes.
Some recommend journaling in order to work through memories of a past relationship. Others, such as Rachel Norman, an online music therapist and blogger, suggest using music to heal the soul.
“For someone … experiencing the first holiday season after losing a loved one, hearing those familiar, cheery Christmas tunes can feel like a noisy assault or a personal insult,” she writes.
Those grieving should give themselves permission to feel emotion, to be silent when it feels right and to let caring family and friends “in.”
And like the Rabbi Glazer’s empty chair or Mahoney’s weekly phone call to her siblings, Norman advises creating a musical ritual to honor a loved one.
“Sing or play a song as you light a candle for them … Write a song (or poem) … record your family singing a favorite holiday song to be wrapped and put under the tree. Listen to a song that you enjoyed with a loved one. Or go to a musical event that you used to share together …” she writes.
Here in the Pikes Peak Region there’s another option. Deb Kinnan invites those grieving to attend the annual Pikes Peak Tree of Life ceremony on November 23 at the Pioneers Museum.
“People honor the memory of a loved one by purchasing a light. The trees are so inspiring when illuminated. They remind us that we’re part of a broader community, that we’re not alone in our grief.”