by Chaplain Julia Rajtar
As we gather to celebrate this joyous season with family and friends, we also gather in sadness after a loved one has died. In a time of joy and merriment, it can be difficult to feel merry and bright. Even more difficult is gathering together and not knowing what to say. Family members find themselves in a bind, “not wanting to make you sad, or make you feel worse,” so they pretend. They pretend and say nothing about the deceased. They pretend so that you don’t feel hurt deeper than you already are. You are already hurting though, and you say their name regularly, holiday or not, so in not saying their name it cuts your heart even deeper.
Our deceased loved ones have been a part of our families, whether for a short time or for years. We carry with us memories of holidays past, treasured times hunting for a tree, or shopping, or the baby’s first ornament, or preparing that special meal, or hanging the lights. As we gather together at the holiday, family and friends wonder, Should we mention his name? Should we talk about her? I don’t want to make you sad. Yet it is precisely the silence that breaks the heart, denying all who knew the deceased, of an opportunity to continue to heal.
This holiday season, as you gather, say the name of the deceased,no matter how long ago they died. Love always binds us together, even after death. Saying their name releases a tension that everyone feels, as they battle with the question, should I or shouldn’t I? Yes, tears will no doubt come, but so will the laughter.
Gifts we can give the bereaved:
- Bring a cup of tea or coffee or cookies over. Sit with them. Listen much more than talk. Be present. Allow them to do what they need, cry, laugh, sit in silence.
- Offer to help decorate, if they are up to it.
- Print photos from your cell phone of the deceased and give them a photo album or make a calendar for them of the photos of treasured times.
- Energy can be waning, offer to help with some preparation, and then do it their way.
- Remind them they don’t have to keep the same tradition, and give them the space they need if they want to change it.
- Say their loved one’s name, especially when you gather on the holiday. Share a memory or story.
- Perhaps as you gather for the family meal, set an extra place, left empty, in honor of your deceased loved one.
- Decorate a small tree with ornaments that represent the deceased.
Our loved ones who died, will always be a part of our families. The rituals of the holiday season remind us even more of what we have lost in their death. This year, make a new tradition, especially if the death is recent, by saying their name and honoring their life that was so much a part of yours.