I’m not a big Christmas guy. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there was a star over the stable. I believe blue collar shepherds and white collar magi came to that stable. I believe the baby in that manger is the reason for the season.
But I’m not a good shopper. I’m not interested in indulgences that cause indigestion. But most emphatically, I do not believe everyone is happy, merry, joyful, and peaceful and any other adjective you want to add to this litany of lovely words.
I know as a funeral director for the past 37 years, many people are bereaved. The death of a spouse, parent, sibling, child or good friend distorts and destroys the Hallmark portrayal of a happy home for the holidays.
As the non-bereaved world debates the merits of a real or artificial Christmas tree, I realize bereaved people need to confront their Christmas experience with their real feelings.
At the time of the death they commenced their emotional journey through the valley of the shadow of death. For some it was shock, that the sudden heart attack, stroke, suicide or accident thrust them into a nightmare they frantically wanted to wake up from.
Others vented anger in the vocabulary — why him or her? Why our family? Why me?
And with time there was the possibility of healing depending on how the time was used. Christmas often manifests these feelings on the short term and resurrects these feelings on the long term.
When my mom suddenly died June 7, 2006, I was devastated. It was surreal. I was angry she died without me being there. I howled in hurt. With time and the commitment to confront my grief while my mourning was supported by caring family and friends, I began to heal.
Christmas of 2006 was like the day after the funeral. The healing had hemmoraged. I was hurting again.
Many families have special Christmas recipes, rituals and requirements regarding food, trees and gatherings. In the spirit of a blue Christmas I authored a manifesto of mourning for people like me:
- Acknowledge normalcy. If someone you love has died Christmas will be different and likely difficult.
- Confront, do not avoid, Christmas. You can’t get off the planet, so make your neighbourhood in the global village emotionally and environmentally friendly. Leave a vacant place at the dinner table. Display past gifts from the person – share the gift of memory by saying their name and give permission to others to say the name.
- Keep a daily diary on how you’re doing. Start the entry with today how I feel about Christmas. It will provide a personal comparison to how you are doing.
- Dedicate 20 minutes every day just for yourself in a quiet not intrusive space.
- Volunteer to help someone else. Ring the bells for the Salvation Army (705-566-8151), or help serve a dinner at the Elgin Street Mission (705-673-2163). By helping others you help yourself have purpose.
- Declare the 12 days of Christmas coffee with a dozen friends and or family. At the time of the death, everyone said just call – do it. They will be very supportive and their gift will be letting you tell your stories.
- Visit the place where the deceased is buried or scattered. Bring a Christmas card, gift or even a piece of fruitcake. The physical journey to that place is important because it also lets you leave that place and that conversation and gift of grief.
- Give hugs and get hugs, they are a covenant of caring.
This map helped me navigate the valley of the shadow of death. I realized in bereavement my Christmas story wasn’t proclaimed in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke with angels, shepherds and magi, but rather in the simple sentence found in the Gospel of John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”
Gerry Lougheed Jr. is chair of the Bereavement Foundation of Sudbury and manager of the Lougheed Funeral Homes in Sudbury.