The holiday season is about over! For many that is a statement that is said with relief; for others it is said with a sense of wishing it could last a little longer.
What “should” be a time for joy and celebration can actually be a time of sadness and relived loss. I’ve noticed in the last fifty-plus years of doing pastoral ministry that the holiday seasons, which in my years of innocence were a pure delight, increasingly come and go with mixed feelings, not always with pure delight. I’ve performed funerals and memorial services for far too many people during this season of joy, as well as throughout the year, to have it be otherwise.
And like all people who’ve reached a certain age, I’ve experienced enough personal loss and sorrow to know it “should not” be otherwise. I have come to expect dealing with, and understanding, people who say, “I hate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s family time and most of my family is no longer alive.” “Memories take over, and many of them are sad.” “I get through them, but I don’t enjoy them.” “I use a lot of energy pretending I am happy around my family and friends.” I have learned that, “Have a happy holiday!” can be a trite and meaningless statement to people who are still grieving and reliving losses.
How Can I Help?
The good news is that you and I can do something with and for people in such a state. We can help create an environment in which sadness and joy coexist; in which painful memories can be transformed into memories that bring life, rather than death. This, by the way, is true not only at holiday times but also at all times throughout the year. As those who care for and about someone in these circumstances, especially older people, we can make a difference! So, a few simple rules!
Recognize the sadness and loss – allow it to be talked about with out judgment. Never use statements such as: “Oh Mom you just have to move on. Don’t be so depressed. Do something to change your attitude.”
Bring up the memories that cause pain – doing so is healing in itself. It says you understand. It signals that you are willing to engage the feelings.
Find ways to smile as the memories are shared – smiles suggest that grief and loss are only possible because the cause for grief and loss were once a cause for joy and life. Memories can be a gateway to recovering those feelings.
Above all, respect the person enough to “sit tight” and be a healing presence; being the sounding board she/he might need to process their feelings.
About Jim Stinson
I first became an ordained member of the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church fifty years ago. Through my time with the pastoral ministry, I worked extensively with older adults, many of whom were members of my congregation. I also served as the Director of Spiritual Life for United Methodist Homes from July 2002 until my retirement in July 2015, providing guidance and support to residents, family members, and staff. I love reminding people that “old” is not a dirty word and encourage others to adopt a healthy perspective on aging. I am also the author of a book, Just Because I Am Old – A Practical and Theological Guide To Caring, which was recently published in 2014.
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