Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Silence of the Holidays

Holidays used to be Holy Days (Old English - haling daeg) when time was set aside for looking at our lives, figuring out what we didn’t like about them, gathering spiritual guidance, and adjusting our habits so that we could head in the direction that we wanted. Instead of facing our problems, we have morphed the observances into an excuse to indulge in excess.

If we lost someone this year, the holidays are traumatic. We don’t want celebration. We want mindfulness.

Besides Christmas, other religions and cultures have observances at the end of the year, like the Jewish Hanukkah, the African American Kwanzaa, and the Winter Solstice. They acknowledge miracles, core values, the changing seasons, and the celebration of light in the midst of the dark winter months.

This is what I like about these holidays:

Hanukkah – the mindfulness of the daily ritual of lighting candles. 

Winter Solstice – accepting the invitation to walk around in nature and listen to its quiet voices and its stillness.

Christmas — We decorate the house, the yard, the pets, buy gifts for everyone we like, and some we don’t. Bake a lot of cookies. Shop every day. Sing Norwegian sleigh bell songs, and some of us sit by the window and watch the snow come down for hours.

New Year’s Eve — We stay up too late, drink too much, and eat too many rich foods. We toast each other and resolve to make the coming year the best one ever. On New Year’s Day, we watch endless football games, movie marathons, or catch up on our favorite shows on Netflix.

Before the special days arrive, we’ve already spent a bunch, partied too much, and we’re exhausted. And if we don’t get along with everyone in our family, arguments tend to break out, and we end up not speaking to each other for another year.

Is this what we want from our holidays? For many of us, it is.

In a surface way, the secular versions of the holidays say that JOY still exists. There’s a surge of good will in our community, of people willing to work together, and we desperately need to hear this. We need this boost as this year comes to its weary end.

We also respond to the LONGING we feel for something deeper than what we find in our daily lives. It’s the longing that people throughout the centuries have felt at this time of year. Some of us observe ancient rituals and traditions to assure ourselves that HOPE still exists, that the miracle of the candles is real, and that if we work for what we believe, we can make changes and bring in a better future.

Whether we lost a spouse, friend, parent, sibling, or child, the happy messages constantly remind us that someone we loved is dead. There are triggers everywhere — the holiday sounds, foods, smells, music, decorations, even the crisp feel of the air. When we’re in despair, all the joy being thrown at us like snowballs only drives us deeper into the safe refuge of our battered hearts. We long for the holidays to be over.

For friends who are grieving, the best gift you can give is to not insist that they be happy.

They can’t set their grief aside just because it’s the holidays. But you can invite them to your party and allow them to sit on the side, enjoy the music and banter of conversations, and leave when they need to go.

Even if you aren’t grieving this season, listen to what your heart hungers for this year.