Christmas 2017: What the Bereaved Need From Family and Friends

Christmas is fast approaching so I’m posting this one last time.  I hope it helps someone who is struggling to share how hard it can be to “make merry” when a heart is broken. ❤

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it.  I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here:  Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This will be the fourth Christmas without Dominic.

I’m certain that for some of my family and many of my friends, they are less and less aware of his absence.  That’s completely natural and understandable.  

But for me, his absence looms just as large THIS Christmas as it did that FIRST Christmas.

Even if you do realize how hard it is for grievers during the holidays, you might not have any idea how to show you care.

I came across this list originally published Family Life Today that gives 25 ideas to give holiday hope to the grieving and wanted to share it because I think it is wonderful.

I can promise you that any hurting heart would be delighted to have a friend or family member reach out in one or more of these ways. 

25 Christmas Gifts or Remembrances for the Brokenhearted

1.  A tree that can be planted in the family’s yard in memory of the loved one (or a gift certificate to a nursery that can be used to purchase a tree in the spring)

2.  Bibles, Christmas Poinsettias, or library books given as memorials

3.  Memorials to the local church or charities

4.  Home videos of the loved one (especially ones of activities that the family may not have)

5.  A scrapbook filled with pictures of the loved one

6.  Special Christmas ornaments (for example, if the child played the piano, see if you can find an ornament in the shape of a piano)

7. Books such as Streams in the Dessert and When Life is Changed Forever

8.  A personal item that would become a memento about the loved one’s personality or gifting

9.  Gift certificates to a cabin or lodge, or to a place that the loved one once enjoyed

10. An original poem about the deceased

11. A journal from friends and family with written memories about the deceased

12. A written tribute to the deceased (The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents by Dennis Rainey and David Boehi, explains how you can do this.)

13. Addressing their Christmas cards or notes

14. Joining them in holiday shopping or doing the shopping for them

15. Asking if you can help decorate their home for Christmas

16. Sharing homemade Christmas cookies

17. Arranging family photographs in albums

18. Inviting them to decorate a gingerbread house

19. Picking them up for Christmas services at church and holiday get-togethers

20. Helping them shop for that “perfect gift” that they can give to others in memory of their loved one

21. Decorating a small tree with ornaments that have special memories of the loved one

22. Helping them write holiday memories

23. Organizing a candle-light memorial for close friends and family

24. Having a family-time of singing some of the deceased’s favorite Christmas carols and hymns

25. Giving the brokenhearted blank journals to write Bible verses that remind them of God’s presence, such as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a and Jeremiah 29:11

“Get Out of Christmas Free” Card

I remember playing Monopoly as a kid and how much I treasured that “Get Out of Jail Free” card when I was lucky enough to draw it from the pile.

Because it meant that even if I landed in jail, I didn’t have to stay there. 

As I walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death, I often wish there were cards like that for all sorts of seasons, places and situations.  I can’t help them coming around, but I would love to be able to skip right over and move to the next thing.

Christmas feels like that this year. 

Christmas is hard for all kinds of hearts for all kind of reasons.  And unlike most other holidays that are only a DAY, the Christmas season drags on for weeks which makes it even harder.

Now, you know I’ve posted here about why I still put up a Christmas tree-because the lights remind me there is a limit to the darkness.

But, that said, I want to offer a “Get Out of Christmas Free” card to other hurting hearts who just can’t manage even a lighted tree this time of year.

Shake off the guilt.  Wash off the worry.  Step free of others’ expectations.

There is no biblical imperative to celebrate the birth of Christ.  None.

And there is certainly no biblical imperative to dress up the celebration with all the cultural trappings we’ve added over centuries.

Furthermore, if you get right down to it, there is strong evidence that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th.

So if your heart cannot bear the thought of one more holly, jolly song, one more hap-hap-happy get together, one more frenzied rush to the store for a forgotten present or pantry item-just choose to sit this one out.

It is possible to go through the month of December without caving in to consumerism or being guilted into celebrating when your heart’s not in it.

Close the blinds.  Let the telephone go to voicemail.  Fast from social media and turn off the TV.  

The days will pass with or without your permission and January promises a fresh start. 

It’s OK.  I promise.

its ok to not feel like celebrating christmas

 

Here We Go Again: Season of Joy-Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

I wrote this two years ago,  our second without Dominic.

This will be our fourth.

I’m still feeling my way along this path, still trying to figure out how to honor the missing and love the living in ways that are meaningful and helpful. I didn’t get a “how-to” book when my son died. I and other grieving hearts are doing the best we can.

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

Read the rest here:  Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Holiday Bucket List

You don’t have to survive a life-shattering, heartbreaking, soul crushing experience to help you reevaluate what is, and what isn’t, important.

But if you do, you will.  

While others are looking up things to do and things to buy, I’m sitting in my chair writing letters to the people I love. 

I just don’t find any satisfaction throwing money away on silly gifts that won’t be remembered next week, much less next year.

I won’t let fruitless busyness overrun my calendar and squeeze out meaningful conversations with the people I love.

I would rather spend those minutes making memories than making miles, rushing to the next “mandatory option” on the list.

So I’ve narrowed my Holiday Bucket List to just six things:  

 

holiday bucket list

Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

It’s a question every hurting heart has to answer if you celebrate a traditional western Christmas:  Will I put up a tree this year?

christmas-tree-melanie-edited

I had a few months of lonely travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death before I had to answer that one.

Dominic left us at Easter, so by December I had learned that wishing didn’t make anything better nor did it make decisions disappear.

As Christmas drew near, I just could not bring down the usual decorations from the attic.

So I didn’t.

Instead of trying to work up the courage to dig through boxes and decide what I could or could not bear to see that first year, I bought a new, small tree and put it atop the table in the living room.

How do you arrange pieces of happy memories in a world where everything has changed? How do you touch bits of who you used to be when you have no idea who you are right now?

I decided that even if I didn’t put one other decoration on it, I would have the company of sparkling lights in the darkness of winter evenings.

The lights remind me that the night has limits.

Their tiny twinkling helps me remember that even a small bit of hope is enough to hold on to.

merry-christmas-tree

This is the fourth Christmas since Dominic ran ahead to heaven and it is just as hard as the first one. 

Each year there are additional challenges and additional heartaches on top of the giant one I carry every day.  I’ve found that these years since he left I don’t do well with a lot of the trappings surrounding Christmas.

But what my heart holds onto is the promise of Christmas:

That the Baby became the Man and the Man was Messiah.

I light the lights because they remind me that darkness has limits.

I declare by my defiant act of celebration in the midst of heartache that one day every hard thing, every sad thing and every broken thing will be redeemed and restored.

My prayer for all the hurting hearts this year is that God will make His love real to you in ways you neither expect nor could imagine.

May you find some symbol this season that speaks courage and gives you strength to endure. 

And may the promise of Christmas give you hope, even in the darkest night.  

jesus-christmas

 

 

 

How To Survive December With a Broken Heart

It comes up again and again-and not just for the parents facing their year of “firsts”How do I survive December with a broken heart?

There’s no single answer or list of things to do that will suit every family.

But there are some general principles that can make even this awful reality a little easier: 

Be gentle with yourself.  Accept that you will not be able to do all the things you could do before child loss.  Understand that tears will fall at the most inconvenient moments and grief waves will take you under when you least expect them to.  That’s OK.  You do not have to be strong or brave or keep smiling when you are sad.  Feel what you feel.  Do what you need to do.

Be honest with others.  No matter how wonderful it would be if they could truly understand what it feels like to bury a child (without the experience, of course!), it is not the way things ARESo if you need something from someone, speak up.  If you don’t want to go to this or that, say so.  If your heart can’t take one more family gathering or meal, send your regrets and stay home.  Use “I” statements and say something like, “I’m just not able to participate in gift-giving (or whatever) this year.  My heart won’t take it.”  They may not like it.  But they can’t argue with your experience.

Do not let people cross the boundaries you set up to protect your heart.  Once you have figured out where you need to draw the line and have communicated that to others, hold fast.  It’s really just fine to not return phone calls or text messages designed to force you to meet others’ expectations.  You don’t have to be rude, but you also don’t have to submit your heart to constant trampling.

Be open to change.  This is the fourth set of holidays for me without Dominic.  Each year I’ve entered the season with certain ideas about how they will go, what will and won’t be helpful, and where I needed to set boundaries.  And every year I’ve made adjustments.  Some things I thought I COULD do, I couldn’t. Some things I  swore I’d NEVER do, I’ve done.  Work schedules, plane delays, illness, or even happy surprises alter plans and require adjustment.

Remember that December doesn’t last forever.  As hard as this season is, it is only a season.  The earth turns, the sun rises and the days pass.  If you spend the month in bed with the covers over your head, January will still roll around.  If you get up and participate (whatever that looks like for YOU) then January will also show up on schedule.

These days are just like all the rest:  in the end we survive them one breath, one moment at a time.  

But we do survive.  

bereaved parents have one job during the holidays to survive