It’s almost that time of year. The one that you have been dreading for weeks…. maybe months. It’s the first holidays without a loved one around the table and tree.
The funeral is over, the thank you’s have been sent and the dishes returned. The house looks the same, but there is something missing.
Someone is missing.
The world around you got back into the normal rhythm of daily tasks, but life for you has been altered forever. Maybe you have had months to prepare for next week-the empty chair at the table. Maybe, like our friends, today is the funeral and the rawness of the past 48 hours is only a prelude to next Thursday. And the next.
And the next.
The first holidays without a loved one are one of the hardest things to get through on this earth. My father in law passed away many years ago, a week and a half before Thanksgiving. We were still numb from the loss, when we looked at each other and said, ”Oh yeah…Thanksgiving is this week.”
We went though the prep days leading up to Thursday in quiet paces. My precious FIL had always been the one to carve the bird…..we all knew that my hub, who at 38 years of age, became the family patriarch, would do the deed. But the thought of sitting around after the meal was making us sad and causing confusion to a house full of young boys who were torn between the loss of Pop-Pop and the excitement of days off from school and decorations everywhere we went.
It’s almost like having an out of body experience….your body is doing the familiar activities of shopping, buying food, setting the table, cooking the dishes—but your thoughts are somewhere else. In the shower you have to think: first the shampoo, then the conditioner. You wake up from a deep sleep with the feeling that something is just not right… then you remember.
Dear friend, if this is your life this week, I want to encourage you to live in the moment as much as you can. Be fully present in every conversation, try to get through just this day. Don’t look ahead too far to the busyness of the season, and the demands you feel may be coming your way.
One day at a time. One moment at a time.
When this was our life several years ago, as a family of Christ followers we reached out to our church family and let them love on us (through food and deeds) and we prayed and reminded each other of the comfort of the nearness of Christ.
Here are some other things we did that helped make the holidays easier that first year. My prayer is that these might stir your own ideas of how to face the coming 6 weeks with a measure of comfort and joy:
1- Make sure you are getting plenty of rest. Go to bed an hour earlier than usual until New Year’s Eve, whether you sleep or just read….rest your body.
2- Add a new activity to your normal day of celebration. We decided to take everyone to see a movie Thanksgiving evening…there are usually a lot of new ones to choose from and it kept us moving, not overly thinking. After 3 years of doing that, we were good to go back to our usual football, long walk and board games….
3- Find a way to serve others. It’s always ironic to me that the very thing that seems so unfair after the death of a loved one- the world going on as if nothing has happened- is the very thing that helps heal our heavy hearts. Rejoin the activities of life: bake a plate of cookies for your volunteer firemen, or take a box of chocolates to the ER nurses at your local hospital. Take a Christmas flower to a nursing home to help make that place a little more festive for the residents. Sign up to ring the Salvation Army bell for 2 hours and say to many, many people, “Merry Christmas!” My mom always says: “feelings follow actions”.
4- As you decorate your home, allow yourself to remember….any memories that are associated with certain items and practice thankfulness. Say “thank you’s” out loud. Thankfulness kills despair. Always.
5- If you find yourself in despair…reach out for help. From a family member, a friend, your church or a professional. Read the Bible. It may be your first time thumbing through the stuck together pages. The Bible says that God is near to the brokenhearted. In these words are life and healing,…God is the author of comfort and joy. Here is my favorite Bible verse in any hardship:
God is my refuge and strength, an ever present help in time of trouble
Therefore, I will not fear, though my world should change or when
earthquakes come and the mountains fall into the sea.
You can do this.