2010-12-23 / Worship

Focus on the good to get through Christmas

By REV. GLEN KOHLHAGEN

Christmas is almost here and if you are like me, you are nowhere near ready. For someone who has lost a loved one, they are never sure if they will ever be ready again. It is winter and although this is not Wisconsin, where I am from, you are probably feeling about as frozen inside as the landscape looks outside. It is hard to think about gifts and fun and the holidays when a loved one has died.

You get out the Christmas dishes and your good silverware to set places for everyone and you stop when it comes to the place where your loved one traditionally sat, and you break down and cry. You try to find the holiday spirit but it is hard when the family circle has been broken.

When you have lost a loved one, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of the terrible loss you are feeling, instead of the warmth, love, and excitement you normally have. The first few years are the most difficult, but even years later you may be taken back by unexpected emotions.

So how do you get through Christmas Day? First you have to be patient and realistic. Sometimes our high expectations of the holidays make the pain and frustration more acute. We have a mental picture of how things are supposed to be, but those expectations are based more on fantasy than reality. Remember that you are grieving so you need to be kind and gentle with yourself, and realistic about what you expect. A good idea is to leave the word “ought” out of your vocabulary, because things are not as they “ought” to be.

Second, you need to listen to your heart and acknowledge your limits. Spend quiet time before the rush of Christmas Day listening to your heart. Be aware of your needs and express them to family members and friends with whom you plan to spend the day. As an aside, encourage others to express their emotions as well as the death of your loved one has affected them as well.

As part of knowing your limits, remember it is okay to say no. You do not have to accept every invitation or accept every task that comes your way. Accept invitations and take on obligations only as you have energy and the desire to do so. Do what you can and let that be sufficient, as you need to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and only you can know where your limits are.

Third, you need to adapt traditions. Sometimes when we have lost a loved one the temptation is to scrap the entire holiday season and do absolutely nothing. This may make you feel worse. Do not try to do everything, but do try to do something, as this will help to avoid the emptiness that can bring you down.

Lastly, let the tears come, but at the same time look for the joy that the day can bring. You may have received gifts from family and friends, but do not forget the most important gift you can give yourself, allowing yourself to grieve and letting the tears flow. Have a good supply of facial tissues nearby all day and do not be surprised when you have to use them.

Our tendency is to focus on the loss, but on Christmas day, remember the fun and good times that you shared as well. If you are drawing a blank mentally, pull out an old picture book, and if you have company, share it with them.

Other things you can do are to make a list of all the wonderful, and goofy, presents that your loved one gave you. Then also remember all the other gifts that were shared: joy, laughter, affection, and companionship. In all of this you are honoring your loved one’s memory, and helping yourself to heal.

(If you have any questions about this article or about resources in the local community you can contact the author, Rev. Glen Kohlhagen, at the Washington Presbyterian Church at 706-678-7511. Rev. Kohlhagen facilitates a bereavement group sponsored by the Wills Memorial Hospital on the second Wednesday of each month at 1:00 p.m. in the hospital library/conference room.)

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