December at Selah Ranch will mark our 70th Grief Recovery Retreat. Our first December retreat was Spark Retreat # 10, in 2011. I remember it well because we were curious how the holidays would affect the retreat.
At the conclusion of the retreat on Sunday, I asked the participants a simple question – “Should we continue to offer retreats in December, or is it just too painful?”
The unanimous response was a resounding “YES!” The reason is fairly obvious. December represents the holidays, and the holidays convey family. Quite simply, December is filled with triggers for many who are grieving.
We often call our participants our heroes. We soon will have 1,000 heroes at Spark of Life. These heroes of ours have taught us so much about life. Here is some of what they have taught us concerning the Holidays and Grief.
First – and this is the hard one – fully admit and realize that life will never be the same after losing someone you love, which means the holidays will never be the same as well. One couple that attended a retreat (we’ll call them Joe and Mary) shared that the first Christmas after their daughter died, they were determined to do everything the same. They decorated the house as they usually did, etc. “It was a disaster”, they said. “It was simply too painful.”
Curiously, another couple, (we’ll call them Bob and Sue) shared with us that they did everything the same, in honor of their loved one, yet realizing of course that things would not be the same. But repeating sacred and special traditions actually gave them a bit of comfort to help them with their sorrow.
These two different views actually reinforces a fundamental about grief we would do well to remember – “a healthy recovery is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the one who is grieving” (from The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman). What works for me might not work for you – and that is okay.
Second, have a plan. Joe and Mary decided after that first Christmas disaster to go on a trip the next Christmas. And so they did. They could still honor their daughter in whatever way they decided, but also changed their routine, remembering that life would be different.
Third, we have learned that giving oneself ‘permission’ to grieve, to feel bad when anticipated triggers such as holidays come, is actually a healthy way to handle these triggers. In some instances, this ‘permission’ helps us get through these times.
Finally, give yourself permission to feel good during the holidays, and to have fun. Yes, the ‘fun’ will be different, and yes, there might be deep sadness and tears. But fun is also okay, and in reality honors the loved one you are remembering.
For many of us, the Christmas holidays have a basic message we need to remember – and that message is hope – hope for Deb and me is that Josiah’s death, and the death of our parents and other loved ones, is not the end of the story.
We are Spark of LIFE, not of death.
Spark of Life’s mission is to give those who are grieving HOPE – that though life will never be the same after loss, life can be, once again, rich and fulfilling – as we live with this hope.