Tag Archives: grief

Tidings Of Comfort and Joy

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This the final post in a 3-part series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Two family members will be missing from our family Christmas gatherings this year.

My mother died in April after a ten-year journey with dementia. She hadn’t been well enough to participate in our family Christmas celebrations for the past few years. Instead, we had established different traditions with her at the Healthcare Facility in which she lived.

My sister’s husband died in August as a result of Lymphoma, just one year after being diagnosed with what was believed to be a treatable cancer. We didn’t know last Christmas would be his final Christmas.

Many extended family members and friends are also facing their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one. The anticipation of seeing that empty chair can seem overwhelming. Recalling once-happy Christmas memories leaves you in tears.

I love Christmas music, despite the physical reaction I have to “O’ Holy Night” and “Silent Night.” Both cause my eyes to instantly fill with tearsThe first was one of my Dad’s favorite songs. It brings to mind the Christmas Eve Masses we attended. The second reminds me of my paternal Grandmother and her annual family party held on December 23rd.

At one point during the evening she would remind us to sing carols to invite Santa Claus’s arrival. Grandma would begin singing “Silent Night.” Looking back, maybe this was her clever crowd control:  Gather her 24 grandchildren and quiet them with the lullaby effect of a hymn! When I hear the song, I hear her voice.

A few weeks ago I was in the car with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” playing on the radio. The song suddenly had a different meaning as I listened to the lyrics.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy? Wow! We were definitely in need of both this Holiday season. Where would we find them?

Then I unpacked some Christmas decorations. I was struck by the notes indicating the contents of some the boxes. It has been several years since my Mother and her Mother have written anything to me, but their handwriting is instantly recognizable.

Seeing the notes didn’t make me sad. It wasn’t even bittersweet. They made me smile. The notes are a connection to Christmases past, and a connection to my Mom and Grandma. I felt they were with me, giving me a decorating assist with their organized labeling. Funny, I didn’t know one day the real treasures in a box of Radko ornaments would be labels and crumpled sticky notes.

I think comfort can be found in our family traditions. As difficult it might be to carry on traditions without our loved ones, the familiar might be just what we need. They can at least get us in the groove, and provide a bit of a roadmap.

Traditions can be just as comforting when a new generation assumes them. My niece misses playing elf on her annual shopping day with her Dad, during which they would purchase a gift for her Mom. I imagine my niece’s  little elf-in-training will be shopping with her Daddy, very soon. How heartwarming is that?

I’m a fan of Christmas trees with eclectic decorations. Family heirloom ornaments that have hung on the tree for decades are some of my favorites. Whether they are legitimate antiques, a grade school craft, full of mid century kitsch or the coveted pickle, they tell the comforting history of family Holidays.

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Holiday menu fare includes family recipes that have become tradition. Grandma’s Jewish Coffee Cake, Mom’s Sugar Cookies, and Dad’s favorite cookies. We try to perfect those heirloom recipes in hope they will turn out exactly as they did when Mom or Grandma was cooking. After all, I think tradition is most comforting when it involves comfort food!

This Christmas, we’ll celebrate the birth of our Savior, be visited by Santa, and exchange gifts, but how can we possibly get in the mood for actual merriment when we are sad, missing our loved one and face an empty chair?

The empty chair has become a symbol for the absence of loved ones at family gatherings. There is a Facebook page dedicated to it. It is both literal and figurative, because the reality is, our missing loved ones took up more than a chair. This is especially true of my brother-in-law. His presence filled an entire room.

He lived his life in the spirit of the two main men of Christmas. He never had to ask himself, “What would Jesus do?” He just always did the right thing. He was a counselor in personal matters and a mentor in the business world.  Like Santa, he loved Christmas and gift giving. His quiet, usually anonymous generosity continued year round, and was life-changing for individuals and organizations.

With such a huge presence missing, how will we find joy?

My brother-in-law’s family gathered at my sister’s home to celebrate Christmas last weekend. His six siblings and their children and grandchildren numbering 60+ strong embraced the spirit of their  brother/uncle. They “adopted” an in-need family and purchased every item on the family’s wish list.

What an absolute abundance of joy, and an abundance of love. My sister shared with them, her family of 40+ years, that the gift of their presence was what she and her children most appreciated. She assured them that they needn’t to be afraid to talk about her husband or say his name. In fact, hearing stories helps her and her children feel close to him, and in a way – keeps him alive.

So, our biggest source of joy, will come from simply being together.  The delight of our smallest family members will keep us entertained. We’ll savor our culinary accomplishments. We’ll talk about our missing loved ones. We’ll say their names. There may be a few tears, but there will definitely be alot of laughs.

If you are grieving and facing the first Christmas since the loss of a loved one, I hope you are able to find true comfort and joy.

Go ahead. Hang the ornaments. Sing the carols. Cry the tears. Fill the chair. Share the stories. Laugh.

And eat the cookies.

 

 

 

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Good Grief…It’s On Facebook

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I’ll say it. Facebook can be irritating. Invitations to play games we don’t have time for. Fattening recipes we don’t need. False promises of free iPads and gift cards.

Who hasn’t been guilty of a little eye rolling when scanning through their newsfeed? There are the over-sharers. The boastin’ postin’.  Sometimes Facebook seems to be a perpetual version of one of those Christmas card letters.

Even with its annoyances, it has become a Godsend in some ways.

What began as a place for college students to connect, has grown into a place to reconnect and share joyful or funny news. It has now evolved into something even more. In times of trouble, we can let others know we are supporting them in thought and prayer.

Like many Facebook users, I have followed cancer and recovery-to-health journeys of people I don’t even know. This isn’t voyeuristic.  It is an example of our connection as human beings, which compels us to pray for and root for these friends of our friends.

In times of tragedy and loss, Facebook can be a place to share our grief, and ultimately comfort one another.

Nicole, a classmate of mine, lost her daughter Leah in 2012. I never met Leah, but I got to “know” her through several months of Nicole’s posts on Facebook. The posts were sometimes upbeat or sweet and funny, and often raw and heartbreaking. They were always beautiful because of her family’s fierce love. This love was apparent in every post. Nicole’s generosity in sharing Leah’s journey, allowed countless people to “know” Leah and to pray for her.

Several months after Leah died, I asked Nicole if Leah’s Facebook page made her sad and if it would remain intact. She said, “Leah’s Facebook page will remain alive for as long as I live. Dozens of people post public and private messages almost every week.”

How comforting it must be for Nicole to have the warm reminders that Leah is thought of, and missed by, so many people.

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If joy shared is joy multiplied; then is grief shared, while not lessened, perhaps at least made more bearable?  I think so.

Four of my  Facebook friends passed away in the last few years.  After watching what has unfolded on their Facebook pages, I began to think: Will Facebook evolve into a online memorial garden – especially for the generation who never knew a world without Facebook?

Mike passed away in July of 2011 after triumphantly living with ALS for over ten years. I miss his wickedly funny and irreverent wit. Without Facebook, I would have missed seeing this beautiful photo, posted by Mike’s nephew. It captures what is perhaps the most fitting and perfectly placed memorial stone I have ever seen:  stunning in its simplicity, meaning, and setting, for a true outdoorsman.

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Kathey died in August of  2011. She kept much of her 10-year breast cancer fight sort of private. She didn’t want to be sick, act sick or have anyone think of her as sick. I couldn’t bring myself to write “Happy Birthday”on her Facebook wall the last two years. “Birthday” would have looked pitiful. Kathey would hate that. She made a BIG deal of ALL birthdays. She would have celebrated another birthday this weekend.  She wasn’t a very active Facebooker, but it makes me smile to peek at her wall, read a post and see that someone is thinking of her. I miss her terribly, but will once again find some Happy in her Birthday.

Tom, was the king of the perfectly placed one-liner. He was usually the first to alert me to the news of a recently deceased celebrity.  The news flash was in the form of an always funny, and sometimes, heartwarming commentary. Speculation (and yes, sometimes wagering) about which celebrity would be the next to go, soon followed. Naturally, we counted them off in the requisite groups of three. What? Doesn’t everyone do this?

Tom passed away last January. This memory stone, with names of some of  Tom’s nephews and a niece is pure sweetness. It made me smile. Without Facebook, I would never have seen this treasure created in memory of a beloved uncle.

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It occurred to me that cemeteries may become less important for the next generations. Maybe this had already started. I live in an area where choosing cremation and The Neptune Society is common practice. Personally, I’m not a frequent cemetery visitor, and I don’t know too many people who are. I admit, I had never really felt a tremendous connection to the final resting places of my loved ones.

Then my cousin Jennie died.

A 42-year old wife and mother, she fought  breast and brain cancer for 18 months. Learning her final resting place would be next to my Dad, who died nearly 30 years ago, was a moment full of emotion. Suddenly the cold cemetery seemed a little warmer. I know their souls have left their earthly bodies, but somehow, it is comforting to know my Dad finally has “company next door” after all these years, and that Jennie has her Uncle Art to watch over her.

However, I still think a cemetery can be a stark reminder of a death, and a visit to one may mean grieving in solitude. But, a visit to a Facebook page can be a shared celebration of life. It is a community venue for showing support, sharing warm remembrances and ongoing tributes.

Jennie’s wall contains sweet memories, photos of haircuts and donations to “Locks of Love,”and inspirational quotes.

“Leah’s Day Of Love” was organized as a Facebook Event and observed on the 1st Anniversary of her death. Lovely, random acts of kindness were documented in joyful photos. What a beautiful day dreamed up by Leah’s cousin.

Tom’s page has memories of March Madness. All their pages are filled with birthday wishes, photos of happy moments, and sentiments about missed friends.

It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are about eternal life, or how you feel about headstones and scattered ashes. If you’ve lost a friend, visit their Facebook page and see how their spirit lives on in their family and friends.

Join the celebration. Share a story.

Cultivate a memory garden and watch it grow.

Newtown Is Our Town

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Wreath“These are the people that a week before Christmas, just lost their Joy..”  Monsignor Robert Weiss, St. Rose of  Lima, Newtown, CT

The images on the evening news made me weep tonight: relieved parents hugging their children; a little peanut in her purple winter coat, surely some of the innocent victims were her exactly her size; photos of anguished faces; an aerial shot of the Fire Station containing unimaginable grief and pain within its walls. All these folks are in my prayers tonight.

The footage of the CSI team walking into the school in their medical scrubs stopped me in my tracks. No amount of training or experience could possibly prepare them for the horror they were about to face, could it?  Do they normally wear scrubs, or was this a comforting gesture? To me, it conveyed the tender care being given to these innocent victims. These are the people who do the work we rarely think of. They, along with all the brave first responders are in my prayers tonight.

The futile, but completely natural, search for answers will continue. Mental illness and gun control will be hot topics. I don’t have any answers and frankly what I think is irrelevant. I do know that a few years ago, bullet proof cockpit doors were installed pretty quickly on every Jet in the U.S. Maybe, while the debate continues,  the same type of door could be installed on every classroom, just as quickly.

By tomorrow, the authorities will likely have assembled a timeline of the crime. I hope they skip the computer animation of the shooter’s path through the school. The details of what these dedicated educators, and innocent babies were doing in the last minutes of their lives, in their happy, little classrooms, and how and where they died…well, it is almost too much to bear.

Next week,  the magazines will hit the stands. Every one of them will contain a tragic class picture. The picture day that no one signed up for.  A little life story will accompany each photo. By then, their names will be familiar to us. We’ll know about their personalities and their favorite things. We’ll know what was on their Christmas lists.

The pictures may be small, the stories may be short, their lives too brief, but of course, they mattered A LOT. I will be grateful to the families for sharing their stories with us, because tonight, while  Newtown could be any town, it  feels like our town, and those kids feel like our kids.

I want to hear all about these Angels’ lives here on earth.

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I found the heart-shaped wreath here.