God Wins…but can I ?

A Mother's Journey


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Being a light to family and friends during the holidays

It’s a busy time of year for EVERYONE. The holidays either bring joy, sadness or both to each of us. I wrote a post earlier this month titled “When the holidays hurt…what to do for your friend and yourself.” The reality is that we are all so busy, the people who may benefit from this post – maybe didn’t have time to read it.

So, I’ve summarized the content, in hopes that someone who needs to either be encouraged or affirmed will take a few minutes for self care. Sometimes, we need information in small portions vs. the main course.

Here’s the appetizer.

If you have a friend who has suffered a major loss or challenge this year (i.e. a death in family, divorce, job loss, major illness, etc.), you will benefit by moving toward your friend, rather than away from your friend.

You can be the light he or she needs this holiday season.

You will experience life in a much richer way by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss
  • Not making decisions for your friend about holiday events
  • Being understanding and flexible about your friend’s involvement in holiday celebrations
  • Doing something special for your friend
  • Keeping your commitments – don’t bail on your friend the last minute

When people have shown me these kindnesses, it has given me the gift of unconditional love.

Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a deep loss:

  • Realize our grief over ANY loss is important; there is no grief hierarchy
  • No guilt over sadness about a loss when others are happy; there is no grief timeline
  • Accept grief as unpredictable and messy
  • Ask for what you need – don’t pretend or stuff your feelings
  • Find a creative way to honor your loved one or acknowledge your situational loss either privately or publicly
  • If you just can’t go to holiday gatherings, don’t – give yourself permission to say no

We can have glimmers of bright moments during difficult life situations. They start by being our authentic selves with family, friends, co-workers around us. Be real. Don’t hide in the dark.

The holidays give us an opportunity to see people who we haven’t in a long time. It’s helpful to realize we’ve all struggled with something in 2017; it’s the better to choice to be genuine reflections of reality to one another.

Wishing you peace.

Note: If you’d like the main course on this topic, please read the previous post.

 

Blog_Christmas 2017


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When the holidays hurt…what to do for your friend and yourself

 

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When love ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

From the song  It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams

Such sweet words that create a picture of cozy fireplaces, twinkling Christmas lights, shiny menorahs, cheery music and jolly laughter. For several people, they eagerly await this season and began excitedly counting down the days to December in June! Their outdoor lights were up in November. The holiday season brings days off work to shop, go to craft fairs and attend holiday parties with family and friends.  The holiday song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year says it all for this group of people.

Truth: You are either in this season or life, or you have friends in this season of life.

There’s another group of people who desperately want to fast forward to January 2, 2018. Many of whom are either in the midst of a serious health diagnosis and/or crisis, relationship breakdown, job loss, divorce or grieving the death of a loved one. The joy that typically marks this time of year turns into a sadness and uncertainty about the future that is very lonely and painful.

Truth: You are either in this season of life, or you have friends in this season of life.

How do you recognize and reconcile the reality of both experiences?

  • When you are in a “great place” in life, how do you celebrate with both your happy friends and your sad friends?
  • Can you risk being “brought down” by someone who is hurting during the holidays?
  • How do you even begin to reach out to someone in pain?
  • If you are the person struggling, how do you take care of yourself?
  • How do you not feel like you are bringing people around you down?
  • What if you need a “time out” during this holiday season?

I don’t have magic answers, but I can share my life experience and what I’ve learned during the last few years. This Christmas will be my fourth without my 15 year old daughter Leah. She passed away in 2014.

This time of year brings conflicting and complicated emotions. Leah had cancer for 14 months. It was this time of year, in 2013, when she had a major setback and relapse. We knew she was in a bad place, so we tried desperately to make the month of December special for her.

It is a sweet memory … and a bitter memory.

For the first two holiday seasons without Leah, I was quite numb. I basically went through “the motions” during all the major holidays as I did my best to outwardly smile and engage with family and friends. Yet, I hurt on the inside. On Thanksgiving 2015, I basically had a “grief breakdown” and had to leave a gathering without saying goodbye to anyone because I was deeply sobbing.

When you are in a great place and all is going well in your life, it takes personal sacrifice to enter into someone’s pain or difficult situation. Yes, you risk being uncomfortable; you may have moments of empathy and compassion that bring you to a potentially melancholy place. You too may feel somber emotions as you walk alongside your friend.

Remember your friend, the one for whom you care, is going through much more than you are. He or she is living the pain. He or she can’t go home to normalcy the way that you can.

You will experience life in a much richer way by:

  • Acknowledging your friend’s loss – In my case, after four years, people don’t mention Leah much anymore. When they do, it’s very special. I was at a recent volunteer meeting and a friend gave me a big hug and asked how I was. She acknowledged my loss and asked, “What did Leah love about Christmas?” Wow! What a gift she gave me in that moment. However you do so, take the time to either say or write kind words about your friend’s loss. Words such as “I’m so sorry that you are without your loved one. I can’t imagine how hard this season is.” Or “It must be hard this time of year not having a job. Can I take you out for coffee or take you shopping so you can pick out a special treat?” Or, “It must be so hard to not feel well during the holidays, can I bring you a favorite meal?” Avoiding a friend’s hard situation adds another layer to the sadness he or she already feels. Don’t fear reminding them of their loss, they think about their life challenges every day.
  • Not making decisions for your friend – Let your friend make decisions about what she or he does or doesn’t do around the holidays. Invite her to events that you normally would. Or, even invite him to an event that you hadn’t considered. If you are unsure about whether to reach out or not, reach out. If you don’t invite your friend, he or she will have limited activities to consider and this experience is isolating and lonely.
  • Being understanding and flexible – Sadness is a strange thing – especially around the holidays. An emotional reaction to an event can hit at any time. A friend may say yes to a party invitation, arrive at your home, suddenly get emotional and start to withdraw or cry. My first Christmas without Leah, I felt sensitive, but peaceful. Nothing unexpected happened. My second Thanksgiving without Leah, I had an unexpected “grief attack.” Something happened that triggered intense mourning that I couldn’t control. It actually shocked me. I had to leave the celebration. Please give your friend permission and grace when they are in public. Don’t get easily offended if he or she doesn’t immediately accept an invitation, or if he or she cancels at the last minute. Especially, if your friend has a health issue. Your understanding spirit will be remembered.
  • Doing something special – You can buy a special gift, make a donation to a cause or give a unique card to acknowledge your friend’s pain. I am so incredibly touched when friends and family reach out in a specific and meaningful ways. Over time, I’ve had friends decorate our home with Christmas lights, drop off meals, do holiday shopping for us, etc. During one family gathering, our extended family decorated Thanksgiving cupcakes in Leah’s memory. By acknowledging your friend’s difficult situation in a tangible way, you stand out as someone who really cares.
  • Keeping your commitments – If you tell your friend you are inviting her to a party, invite her. If you suggest going out for a Hanukkah or Christmas drink/coffee, follow through and make it happen. Promises that are not kept are especially hurtful to a person going through a hard time.

The more you invest in your community of family and friends, the more they will be there for you when you need them.

These actions have taught me about true compassion and have been some of the best holiday gifts that I have received.

Now, a word to those of us who are in the middle of a deep loss:

  • Realize our grief is unpredictable and messy – Emotions around the holidays are all over the place. One day, we feel upbeat and happy and the next day, we feel depressed and lonely. Don’t feel pressured to make too many plans ahead of time. Ride the grief wave as you need to.
  • Ask for what you need – If a friend is kind enough to reach out, respond and don’t ignore him or her. Communicate openly about what is most helpful to you at this time. Be bold. It’s ok. Friends who haven’t had a significant loss often want to be helpful, but don’t know what to do. You can gently coach them on what is most meaningful to you at this time.
  • Find a creative way to honor your loss – Holiday traditions are so foundational and meaningful in our lives. Create an event/tradition that honors your loved one and keeps his or her place in your heart alive. I’ve replaced Leah’s former Christmas stocking with a beautiful white stocking in her memory. It’s a small action, but it is a tangible way of keeping her part of our family traditions.
  • If you just can’t go – don’t. Give yourself permission to say no. Please just be careful to not isolate to a degree that is harmful to you. Maybe you can’t see a friend in person, but would gladly talk to her on the phone for 15 minutes. At the three year mark, I was in a place where I could actually host having friends to my home for the holidays.

The holidays are a time to celebrate our love for one another – whatever life stage we are in, right? Whether we are flying high or have hurting hearts, our lives are so much more meaningful when experienced together in community.

Holiday blessings all!

blog holidays 2017