The Memories of December
Recently my wife’s mother passed away. We had just celebrated her 100th birthday only three weeks earlier.
It was a wonderful celebration of her life. She was content, alert, appreciative, and felt surrounded by the love of her family. All of her children and their spouses, grandchildren and spouses, and even all of her great-grandchildren were there.
We knew that our time with her would not last forever. We just did not think it would come so quickly.
It led me to think that although we look forward to the Christmas holidays with anticipation, many of us can also experience emptiness during this time of year when someone we love is no longer around to share it.
Perhaps it is a parent, or spouse, or even the death of a child. For some, the sorrow fades over the years. But for others, the sense of loss becomes even more intense as the years pass.
So we try and “blot it out.” This may work for a time, but then we may begin to feel guilty that we are trying to forget our loved one. Remembering can just be so painful!
So how do we remember and honor the ones we miss, yet also experience the joys of the “Christmas Present”?
What Doesn’t Work
Studies have consistently shown that the harder we try not to think about something, the more difficult it is to forget. It does not seem to make sense, but you can try it yourself.
Try closing your eyes for a moment and try NOT to think about someone you love who has passed on. It just doesn’t work. The more you try to forget, the more you focus on that person
Here are five ideas that may help:
Realize that Sorrow is Something God Created in Us
We are created in His image. Our emotions — although certainly stained by our own selfishness and by living in a fallen world – are examples of God’s own emotions.
I am often reminded of Jesus’ own tears in John 11. Jesus had purposely delayed his return to Bethany while Lazarus was sick so that God would be glorified. Jesus knew that He would be raising Lazarus from the dead in a spectacular and miraculous way. But still Jesus felt the sorrow of Mary and Martha. And perhaps even His own sorrow. Sorrow that physical death is a part of life. But at the same time knowing that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that physical death does not have to lead to spiritual and eternal death.
So to feel sorrow and experience tears is natural. To try and “stuff” these emotions usually results in consequences in other areas.
Recall Memories and Share with Someone
This seems counterintuitive. “I am trying to forget. Not to recall these memories!”
But in fact, just the opposite happens. When we share memories with someone else – especially with someone who was close to our loved one — we provide our mind and emotions with a kind of freedom. We are able to escape the intense feeling of loss when we pursue the memories directly with someone else. And for most of us, we often experience a kind of comfort.
As we remember together, we find that funny stories, events, and situations bring smiles and perhaps even laughter. Shared grief becomes bearable and can turn into reminiscing that we enjoy as we reflect on the loss, but also on the good times.
Consider What We Gained from the Person’s Life
Over the Christmas holidays, many of us consider it a tradition to watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But in reality, the story itself it is devastating and sad until the last 15 minutes.
What makes the move worth watching is that George begins to realize how much his life has meant to so many people.
Take the time to write down specific lessons learned or examples of support and encouragement that our loved one provided us. It is a way of honoring that person. This can be simply a list. Or for those who are creative: poetry or even a song.
Begin a new tradition
If the loss of the loved one occurred sometime in December or around Christmas, it will be almost impossible to prevent melancholy thoughts – especially if the loss occurred recently.
So rather than pretend that we are not feeling the loss and trying not to “spoil the holiday,” the person’s memories can be incorporated into the Christmas traditions.
This last Thanksgiving, several of “Mimi’s” grandchildren made desserts that their beloved grandmother made in their growing up years. This was a way that they celebrated her life and honored her, while grieving her loss as well.
Another idea is to leave an empty chair at the dinner table. This allows everyone to acknowledge that the loved one is not forgotten, and also provides another opportunity to remember the “Christmas Pasts” when all were present to enjoy the time.
Focus on the First Christmas Itself
The Christmas story seems so familiar. But being able to re-tell the story in a new way often brings an appreciation for what God has done for us through Christ. And how God has provided the way for us to escape eternal death.
Need a way for the Christmas story to “come alive”? Try listening to one or two 12-minute segments on the “Twelve Voices of Christmas”: https://www.backtothebible.org/the-twelve-voices-of-christmas
Other Ideas on how to create new Christmas Traditions can be found at: https://crossroadcounselor.com/christian-living/christmas-and-santa-claus-bah-humbug/