The holidays are typically a time of family. A time of gathering. A time to bring hearts and mind home. For those of us who have experienced a loss, however, things are different. WE are different and it helps to acknowledge that truth, difficult as it may seem. The carols ring hollow, the lights too bright, and the gatherings feel too sad when there is an empty place in the circle of family.
Each journey of grief is unique. It is singular to you. You may feel overwhelmed by emotion, anger or sadness. You may feel debilitated by loss. You may feel empty. You may just want to tuck your sadness inside. Your heart has been broken and you are seeking for ways to put it back together. But how does one do that?
Not only that, how do we get through a season of celebrating and merriment when we feel anything BUT “merry”? How do we even begin to approach the holidays now that someone so important, so central to our lives, is gone?
We can still find comfort in some of our regular traditions, despite the fact that they will feel different this year. We can bask in the warm glow of the memories invoked by those traditions. We can cherish those moments from years past.
It can also be healing to find NEW traditions, new ways to celebrate the holidays, and have new experiences. Change it up a bit, make new memories. You are not the same, so why should everything about the holidays be the same, too? That way you can find moments of happiness and enjoyment without the pang of loss, and without remembering how different that specific activity or situation used to be.
We could choose to spend time with others who may have experienced a similar loss, and sit in a room full of people who understand. You could attend a special holiday service of remembrance, or even a support group. It is incredibly healing to sit in a room filled with compassion, united in shared experience.
Community service can also be a way to have a positive influence on the lives of others and keep us focused on the meaning of the season. Helping others keeps us busy, reminds us (and them) that we are not alone, and makes the world a better place.
We can also find comfort, solace, and meaning in rituals and in honoring the life of the loved one who has passed on. It doesn’t matter whether it was a recent loss or years have passed, there are still positive effects. It may seem that acknowledging the difficult feelings would make us feel worse, and that if we take the stopper out of the bottle where our feelings are safely stored they will all come flowing out and we won’t be able to control it. Wouldn’t it just remind us of what used to be and those who are no longer with us? Studies have proven otherwise.
It seems that individuals who have experienced a loss and participated in such rituals and talked about them said that they actually felt LESS sad once the ritual was over. They also found that rituals, which are deliberate and controlled gestures, help people overcome grief by counteracting the turbulence and chaotic feelings that follows loss.
Rituals can be of benefit no matter how much time has passed since the death of a loved one, since there is no timetable for grief. Rituals and acknowledging even our painful and difficult feelings can help us take back some control over our emotions so that they don’t overwhelm us. Rituals can help us feel empowered to face the situations we find ourselves in, and in the midst of the overwhelming hustle and bustle that can occur during the holiday season that control is something that can help us feel more secure.
However we choose to do so, we can find meaning and healing through pausing to remember our departed loved ones. We could share a memory, speak their names, or help someone in their honor. We can reflect in thankfulness for the role they played in our lives, and acknowledge the difficult truth that the holidays without them will be different this year. Everything is different, yes. But we are also different, we are better, because we had them, our precious loved one, in our lives. And that love needs to be recognized.
Our wish for all of you in this room this holiday season is that you may find what you need. May you find comfort in the stories that your loved ones leave behind. May you find peace in your heart; may you be surrounded with people in your life who bring you joy and a respite from loneliness. We also hope that you may, in your own unique way, find the faith and courage to put one foot in front of the other, to continue on your journey thorough this life. It is indeed a season of sorrow, but also a season filled with joy, memories, and hope. May you carry the spirit of the season in your heart, and may the memories of your loved one be fresh in your mind, for it is there that they will never be far from you.
We wish you all the peace and tranquility this season provides.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870
“In Grief, Try Personal Rituals: The psychology of rituals in overcoming loss, restoring broken order,” The Atlantic, by EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH
“Holiday Service of Remembrance 2017,” by Glenda Stansbury, In-Sight Institute Resource Book