Published (Dec. 8, 2009)
"When Christmas Joy Is Elusive"
I just realized I have four e-mails from close friends on my computer. Each of them is from someone who is struggling because of something significant and troubling happening in their lives. As the holidays approach, I've realized my spirits are also dropping and dropping.
This year is the first in 27 years (except for a year when Paul was too sick to travel) that Paul and I won't be in Michigan sometime during the Christmas holidays. With the deaths of my Dad and Mom earlier this year, there is no trip to Michigan to anticipate.
Also, this year our younger son and his wife will be gone on Christmas day, so we are having our family Christmas and gift exchange early. I am looking forward to our time together before Christmas, but know it will be quiet on Christmas morning when we normally opened our gifts.
And, after months of anticipation, I won't be hosting the Heil Christmas dinner and sharing our home with guests on that day. What a disappointment!
I am not in the Christmas spirit, and although I have tried to hide it, it has been noticeable to some observant people. At a recent dinner concert event, the concert had ended and we were in the process of packing up our equipment. A lady I met through concerts came to me and told me "we need to talk." I sat down and she began, "I know the holidays are coming." That is all it took for my eyes to begin watering. She understood where I am this year, since she has experienced deaths and knows how much those feelings of loss intensify during special times like Christmas.
Her kindness was evident as she listened quietly and patiently without interruption. Then she shared from her experiences and finished by saying, "I just wanted you to know that I will be praying for you." She couldn't have said anything that meant more to me!
With that in mind, and knowing others are also struggling for various reasons, I want to share with you an article entitled "Eight Things Not To Say To Bereaved Parents During The Holidays." Most seem obvious to me, but perhaps they are not. Here is the article (which applies to other loss beyond that of a child).
Eight Things Not to Say to Bereaved Parents During the Holidays
(Christian Newswire) -- With the holidays upon us, families that have suffered the tragic loss of a child are often trying to figure out how they can simply survive the season. Unfortunately, those very people who most care about them, relatives and close friends, often say the wrong things, hurting the very people they're trying to comfort.
According to Patricia Loder, a twice bereaved parent and executive director of The Compassionate Friends, a national self-help organization for families that have suffered the death of a child, following are a few pointers on what not to say to bereaved parents:
"The holidays are a time for rejoicing and giving thanks for what we have. Don't spoil it for everyone else. Let's pretend this never happened."
- "Your child is in a better place. You should be happy about that."
- "Why don't you have another child next year so you can put what's happened behind you?"
- "We have to hold our family gathering at your house or it just won't be the same. You need to stay busy."
- "I know just how you feel. Our pet died this year."
- "What do you mean you don't want to decorate your home? We're coming over and do it. That will put you in the holiday mood."
- "I know you like shopping let's go out together; I have so many people I have to buy presents for."
- "It's time to put this all behind you. No one wants to be with someone who's always feeling sorry for himself."
"Well meaning friends and family have to realize that the holidays are difficult enough for parents who have lost a child without making them feel you're judging them," says Mrs. Loder. "Life for them has changed and it will never be the same."
Whether it is loss of family or friends through death, loss through changing where you or they live, loss through estrangement or divorce, loss of health, loss of employment, any of these can lower someone's spirits. We need to be sensitive to the people around us. Some want to be with others. Others want to be left alone. Some want to be kept busy, while others want to have time to grieve. Some need the sameness from other years, while others need a change. If in doubt, ask the person what you can do to make the Christmas holiday a special one for them. If you are struggling this season, it is nice to know the struggle isn't ours alone and it is especially nice to know that people are praying. If you aren't in the Christmas spirit, know that you are not alone. You will make it through. Others do care and most especially, God cares.
(The Compassionate Friends has more than 625 chapters in the United States offering friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved families during this difficult holiday season, as well as the rest of the year. To learn more about The Compassionate Friends and its many programs for bereaved families, call toll-free 877-969-0010 or visit them on the web at compassionatefriends.org.)
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