by Mary Ellen Markant
During this season of conspicuously embellished celebration, a moment of purposeful contemplation could potentially inspire ways to fill the hollow cavity of loss.
Anyone who is not currently engulfed by searing pangs of separation due to a beloved companion’s recent death may be disinclined to read this article. But, chances are, many folks can recall times of acute grief when feelings of emptiness intensified amid holiday happenings. As the supposedly jubilant season unfolds, how can we reach out, touch individuals on the sidelines who are suffering, and embrace them and their loss in a spirit of empathic camaraderie?
At first glance, it may seem easier and more comfortable to distract the emotionally afflicted through preoccupations that douse the embers of memory. Otherwise, the person might be dragged into a rabbit hole of desolation... and might even cry. But consider the possibility that such tears may be therapeutic. Consider also the possibility that one’s own discomfort with death could squelch a willingness to tolerate freedom of mournful expressions among others.
Think about the value of getting together with individuals who are maneuvering their way through the morass of bereavement, about providing companionship at this time of the year when frenetic busyness often dictates lifestyles. The palpable, yet simple reality of physical (or maybe even electronic) presence can provide palliative consolation.
An invitation for liberation from stifled emotions and unconditional acceptance of whatever feelings emerge can lay the foundation for active listening.
Sensitivity to either that which is being said or to moments of silence can be key to connecting authentically and conveying understanding. Instead of attempting to configure appropriate reactions or responses, just listen. Give contrived holiday cheer a rest.
Encourage flexibility and receptivity to a bereaved individual’s own inclinations. Perhaps others might think it best for that person to participate in social gatherings and events as distractions. But tuning in to one’s internal grief meter can help steer toward a direction and degree of involvement according to one’s comfort level.
Acknowledge a possible need to modify or forgo practices and implementation of traditions this year. Give oneself space and freedom from other’s expectations as well as one’s own. Avoid unfulfilling obligations and activities. Recognize that this season often intensifies the stress of loss, causing fatigue and hunger for rest.
Offers for assistance with tasks such as shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, and cleaning, etc. may be especially appreciated during this time when a “to do” list could seem overwhelming. A partner approach can diminish loneliness.
Acknowledge a reconfigured existence of the departed person through metaphysical ideation and symbolic associations. This may be a time when suggestions for connecting with lost loved ones would be appreciated. Creative channels could open the door to refreshingly rejuvenating horizons. Instead of tucking the deceased person away in a mental grave, invite him/her to be present. Allow memories to flow as freely as the wine.
Here are some suggestions:
Designate a tree of some sort as a remembrance feature... a traditional “Christmas tree” cut for household display...
The following entries illustrate this concept. Following a sunset memorial service in a college auditorium, a commemorative dinner was held in the private room of a restaurant, with guests at round tables accommodating six-eight per table. These notations on cards that effectively stimulated conversation and laughter throughout the meal exemplify the variety and breadth of possibilities that can be drawn from someone’s life history:
Grieving can feel isolating, especially during the holidays when festivity ostensibly abounds. But one’s heartache does not have to be experienced in a vacuum. Remember that others may be feeling a sense of loss that parallels one’s own, to varying degrees. When in the presence of folks for whom one’s life companion was similarly cherished, acknowledge this communal reality together in some manner that is potentially meaningful and restorative for everyone. In spite of having died, the person who is visibly gone still lives within all who had experienced life with him/her.
Prepared by Mary Ellen Markant
Bluestem Community NC is recognized as a 508c1a (faith-based nonprofit organization) by the IRS and State of North Carolina and a 501(c)3 (education and charitable organization) by the IRS. EIN: 86-2188559
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Bluestem Community NC
1900 Hurdle Mills Road
Cedar Grove, NC 27231
919-451-9236 or 919-621-4661