Dear Lucy: This Christmas season is so hard for me. I lost my mother this year and I just cannot imagine this Christmas without her. I have sisters and brothers who feel the same. What can I do or say to break this awful depression that we are all in? We have tried everything and we are so tired and sad. Thanks.
Dear DS: Thank you for the question as there are so many with the same question about handling the absence of loved ones on big holidays such as Christmas. I have experienced this and here is what I learned.
How long and how we mourn is a decision, a choice. When my husband died, I cried and put my emotional life on hold for seven years! Imagine that. I cried every day for seven years. One day I realized that this was my choice...not his. He would never have chosen this behavior for me. It was an insult to the happy, generous person he was. It is all about choosing where, when and how I remember him.
From there, I began to focus on remembering my life with him in the context of not missing him, but in rejoicing over all of the things I learned from him. Instead of longing to have him present in the flesh to have "do-overs" of all of those sweet memories, I began to visualize myself creating a gift package of these memories and putting them on a safe shelf in my heart. Now, when I pull them out to remember, it is like opening a little present from him that I know is always there to cherish and remember with gladness rather than tears.
I also stopped comparing my present to my past. I realized that I was filtering my present through a lens of the past with statements like "if only Harold was here" "Harold would know what to do" or "I wouldn't have to do this if he was still here." I had to decide to be fully present in the now. It was OK to consider what he might do or say to help me in my decision-making. But it was not OK to press a pause button and get stuck in unproductive sadness.
Don't let holiday parties turn into pity parties. I didn't ignore my loss on the holidays. However, I no longer allowed my loss to be the highlight of the holiday. I celebrated as I knew he would celebrate if he was present.
And that brings me to anther point. I had to change my language. I stopped saying "I lost my husband." We lose cats, dogs, rings and watches. We don't lose people! I began to know that every experience with my husband was still alive and present within me and that nothing could ever take them away. I continue to cherish them, to speak of them with joy and laughter, to speak of his strengths as well as the quirks that sometimes seemed like weaknesses.
Most of all, I allowed myself to remember him with joy and thanksgiving...no "buts" or "if only's." My sadness simply cannot change the fact that he is no longer here in the flesh.
And finally, I had to dig deeply and identify any guilt or unforgiveness I was holding towards myself in relation to him. I had to stop imagining all of the things I could have or should have thought, said, or done differently. I had to give myself full credit for having done my best according to what and how I knew to do at the time. I had to choose to forgive myself, stop criticizing myself and get on with using anything I learned to bless the living-right now. I allowed myself to take credit for the good I did, the good I shared and the good I became by simply knowing and loving this person.
I think we feel so obligated to grieve during holidays that we sometimes forget the purpose of the season. The Christmas season, in particular, is a celebration of life. It is a celebration of hope, salvation, goodness, joy, enthusiasm and deliverance. It is the time to honor the very gift of life.
Those we are blessed to love and share our lives with are wonderful gifts from on high, and so are we. Gods gifts are eternal. His best gifts, I believe, are also invisible. They are held in our hearts.
Happy holidays as you make a choice to celebrate Life!
(For help with the feelings that get in the way of prayer and peace of mind, get Lucy's new book, "BE NOT ANXIOUS." Order it directly from her at 901-907-0260 or from her website.)