Holidays can be bitter-sweet as they remind us of our loved ones and the special times we had together. Thirty years ago, Easter took on a sad note for our family with the death of our son Scott, killed in an automobile accident one minute before Easter. As a Christian, I celebrated the resurrection and the beauty of spring but as a bereaved parent I pondered on what I had lost and wondered at times if God had forsaken me. Over the years things have gotten better and I again celebrate with my family and look forward to the holiday. But I know for some of you this will be a difficult year and I thus want to share with you and your loved ones some of the strategies, rituals and advice from Reverend Dennis Apple that have help our family to get through the tough times.
Holiday Self Help Tips:
• Avoid irritations, including, arguments, long lines and crowds
• Take mini-breaks
• Drive your car slowly, less frequently and in a more relaxed way
• Get your daily quota of laughs and hugs
• Call on your personal support system -- a close friend or a spiritual leader can be a lifesaver
• Enjoy the simple things: sunsets, flowers and quiet
• Plan a healing holiday ritual
Healing Holiday Rituals:
• Plant a Living Memorial
Spring is a wonderful time for this ritual. Invite friends and family to write a memory piece or poem to the loved one who has died. The note may be as simple as "I love you" or "I miss you" or "I didn't get a chance to tell you good-by, so I am telling you now." Purchase a tree a plant or a rose bush. Have everyone read their piece and then burn the papers and mix the ashes with soil. Plant the rose bush or tree as a living memorial
• Create a Memory Collage
A Memory collage can be as simple as getting a bunch of old magazines and cutting out pictures that remind you of the loved one who has died. Paste the pictures on construction paper or poster board. Don't put too much thought into the process and you will be surprised with what you will find. Do it in a group and share the memories.
• Create a Memorial Graffiti Wall
The wall can be as simple as tapping a long run of butcher paper across a wall and letting everyone express their creative expressions around grief and loss. I recommend that you use an exterior fence or wall if you are using spray paint. Kids love it.
• Create a Memory Table
Ask people who visit for the holiday to bring something that reminds them of the loved one who has died. It might be as simple as a pack of Lifesavers. Set up a table by the front door with a picture of the deceased where the items can be placed.
• Take a Memory Walk
In this walk family members and friends take turns walking for 10 minutes in pairs. The only talk is focused on positive memories of the deceased.
• Pot Luck Memory Dinner
Guests are invited to bring a dish that reminds them of their deceased family member. Not planning is the key to making this event fun and exciting. Don't expect a balanced meal. You can always call for Chinese take-out later.
• Break a Jar
Buy a large terracotta jar at the garden store. Carefully break the jar into fairly large pieces. Have participants draw or write something they received from the deceased on the exterior of the shards. When this is done glue the jar back together signifying that although the vessel no longer contains the spirit the influence for good goes on.
Renewing Your Faith
Some of you may want to use this spring and holiday season as an opportunity to renew your faith. If you are one who celebrates Easter or Passover you might consider attending services at the church or synagogue of your childhood or try a new setting.
One person in God's service in the Christian tradition is Reverend Dennis Apple whose son died of a massive infection. He has gone on to help thousands of people in many faiths to deal with their losses. The following questions and answers are from our 2011 Webinar with Reverend Apple (available on Open to Hope Webinar With Dennis Apple, Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley):
1. What should I do if being in a faith-based setting makes me uncomfortable because I feel people are feeling sorry for me?
Reverend Apple: Try going to a service or go late and leave early.
2. What if I am angry with God?
Reverend Apple: Be patient with yourself and realize that God is too.
3. What if the funeral of the person I lost was in the building where I attend services and I am afraid to go back?
Reverend Apple: Try going when the building is vacant and sit quietly for a few minutes. Two or three times should desensitize you to the sad feelings.
4. How can I face the empty chair at the family dinner table?
• Acknowledge them by setting a place at the table.
• Honor them by giving a toast.
• Change tradition by going to a restaurant with friends or family members.
5. The holidays are so difficult I dread them. Any suggestions?
• Reverend Apple: Remember holidays are only one day. Anticipation of the event is often worse than the event.
If you want to know more about Reverend Apple listen to Open to Hope Radio with guest Dennis Apple or access the entire Easter Webinar. Both are available at Open To Hope.
Please let me know how your faith has been impacted by loss and your thoughts on getting through the holidays. Also, please link to this blog on your website and social media and hope those who have suffered loss get through the holidays. Remember god work is done through people like you and me.
Happy Holidays, Dr. Gloria