When we exclaim “Happy Holidays!” to one another it is important to remember that this time of year can be very challenging for people for a variety of reasons. Necessary, unavoidable losses in life can present real hurdles to overcome during the holidays.
Death of a Loved One can be devastating to a family, whenever it happens; but, during the holidays the intensity of the grief can be magnified. Often we think of older people who were the center of the family who will no longer prepare the Thanksgiving meal or pass out presents. This is also a time to remember those who have miscarried or lost infants or young children. The finality of death can be brutal during those first times through traditional holidays without their loved one. Over time the intensity of the pain may diminish but it never goes away.
Separation and Divorce can impose a fog of depression upon normally happy times for families and relatives. When children are involved the holidays can often mean scheduled qui pro quo arrangements to assure equitable opportunities to be with different families where animosities and hurt feelings can overrule the hope for peace and mutual affection. The grief that infuses the breakup of a family and its seasonal traditions is sometimes ignored or minimized so that everyone else can pretend everything is just fine.
The Loss of a Job can compound the grief experience of a family during the holidays because of the economic impact and the difficulty of looking for work in a depressed economy. At the same time there are valiant attempts to be optimistic, keep spirits high, to weather through the storms and to welcome change. Nonetheless, when unemployment is extended and benefits run out the family may have to prepare for further losses as houses foreclose, cars go back to the dealers and bankruptcy becomes the only option to keep the creditors at bay.
Each family is unique in its adjustment to necessary losses. Within those families, each individual’s coping with grief can contrast and even conflict with those of other members. Over time families must evolve beyond their losses and begin learning how to exist with the new constellation of relationships and responsibilities. Of course, while one person’s faith may provide the bedrock for moving forward, another person may find a crisis in faith as they ask the ‘Why?’ questions feeling that God has robbed them of their loved one or even deserted them in their time of need.
This is why listening is really important. This is not a time for easy answers for complex questions. Simplistic solutions roll off the tongue when we don’t know what to say; but, there are going to be times when there is nothing appropriate that can be said. There are times when silence can be golden. If you know someone who is grieving and you don’t know what to say, that may mean that there is nothing to be said. A gentle embrace, a touching of the arm and a silent grin to say, simply, “I care” can say it all.
This is not a time to be judgmental or critical of the way someone is grieving.* Sometimes when people need to vent their feelings to God, the people around them may react, afraid that they might something that is wrong or sinful. Reading through the Psalms and other passages can help us realize that we can hardly say much that God has not heard before from those whom He loves. He is God. He created you. He knows you. He loves you. He can take it.
Many will come to their own answers and resolutions by verbalizing their feelings: the depth of their pain and the hollowness inside. Others may need to ‘go underground’ through periods and cycles of situationally appropriate depression. So many times people who grieve can become frustrated and angry with those closest to them because they cannot find someone who can just let them talk.
The key is to be aware that “Happy Holidays” may ring hollow for those who are grieving. If you sense that it may be one of those times for someone close to you, be ready to listen if they wish to speak. Your silent caring may speak volumes.
*If you are concerned about whether someone wants to hurt themselves or someone else you can call the suicide prevention helpline at 1-800-273-8255, contact a mental health professional or the local hospital or police department. Helpful information can also be found at the official website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/.