Something is Missing! by Dr. Bill Webster
Something will be missing this Christmas season.
For the first time in 70 years, Queen Elizabeth 11 will not be bringing us a message of hope and good cheer on Christmas Day. That has been a tradition for many and I for one will miss it, and her. I’m sure King Charles will eloquently continue the custom, but somehow it just won’t be the same.
For all people who have had a significant loss this past year or so, something will be missing this Christmas. You will miss the presence of someone who was an important member of your circle. The season will seem different. When someone we care about dies, we see the world through a different lens, not usually a picture that gives us pleasure.
In a speech at the Guildhall in London, Queen Elizabeth began by saying:
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘annus horriblis”
Several difficult events had contributed to her “horrible year”, including well documented family struggles; a tell all book containing unflattering comments about the Royal Family; and one of her favourite residences, Windsor Castle, extensively damaged in a devastating fire.
We have all had similar terrible years of disappointments and difficulties. It’s amazing how quickly life can change, and most of us can think of a time when it felt like absolutely everything was going wrong. Perhaps for many of you, this past year or so has brought unexpected twists in your life journey. When someone you care about dies, your whole world looks and feels different. Including Christmas!
I want to be very respectful to people of all religions and cultures. But Christmas somehow is a time for many celebrations. My Muslim friend Talha stated, “The Christmas season is always a special holiday for us and we celebrate by taking time to be grateful for our blessings and spending time with each other.” Hanukkah is celebrated by my Jewish friends at this time of year. Light, Peace, Joy and Hope are common themes amongst us all.
For everyone, this is usually the season to be jolly; the most wonderful time of the year. But when you are grieving a loss, you may not feel the same about this festive season. For many a life-altering situation has occurred, whether the death of a loved one, a tragedy, or a life-threatening illness. We are not happy about it … and why should we be? You may be thinking that this season will be anything but merry.
We should understand that we do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. When your world view changes with an unwelcome event, it affects the way you see everything. You can find yourself in a downward spiral to where nothing seems right. Life is like a magnet which attracts us towards what we are feeling. When we are sad about how life has changed, it affects everything, until it becomes one big ball of negatives that makes the stuff of a “horrible year.”
Of course the opposite is true as well. Positive things in our lives attract positive emotions. And that works even in the midst of sorrow; things like being loved, accepted, appreciated, and being positive and even optimistic, even though we have experienced something heart-breaking.
But ultimately, it is not what happens to us but what we decide to do about it that determines the outcome. So what can we do to make this Christmas meaningful if not merry!
a) Re-evaluate the Traditions
For all of us, there are many traditions around Christmas, including family gatherings, lights, decorations, gifts, parties and get-togethers with friends and family, attending a place of worship… and you can add to this list.
Should we put up a tree? It can be difficult to unpack the ornaments to decorate the tree because each piece holds special memories of your loved one and of better days. But don’t deny yourself the opportunity just because it will be difficult. It will be an important part of working through your grief to allow yourself the gift of tears. But maybe don’t attempt this task alone. So who can you ask to help?
What about the festive dinner? Just because you have always had it in a certain place, at a certain time, does not mean the tradition cannot be changed. But perhaps you really want to have it at your place. So, instead of you doing all the work, why not delegate some of the responsibility for preparation to others. No matter what the arrangements, this Christmas will be different, and that reality needs to be faced. But surely the most important thing is getting people together, and when, where and how is negotiable.
Try to find a balance between what others want you to do with what you yourself find easier to do. Do stuff that is meaningful and comfortable for you. Realise that it isn’t going to be easy, but do your best in difficult circumstances, and go easy on yourself. If something doesn’t work out this year, you can change it and try again next Christmas.
b) Relieve the Pressure
There is always a lot of pressure around Christmas with a 1001 things like shopping, baking, gifts, etc. It’s a long list! This year you may not feel like you have the energy to do much, and frankly, you just aren’t excited about it. So here’s a good formula. Ask yourself: “How much can I do?”, then add “what do I want to do”; decide what you should do, compare it with what you can do, and divide that by what you want to do. Add just a pinch of
“Yes, buts” and there’s your answer.
c) Redefine your Expectations
Realise that you are responsible for your own happiness. So act rather than react. Don’t wait for others to choose what to do, and hope they’ll include you. Decide what would be a meaningful way for you to spend this difficult holiday. Let people know that this is what you want and what you need. Do the things that are important and special to you, and whatever feels right.
d) Relive your Memories
Christmas is always a time of many memories and it is actually therapeutic to relive those times. You may find that no-one wants to mention the fact that someone has died or that there has been some loss or change. After all, they surmise, “someone might get upset or emotional”.
Yet denying the reality of the situation is always harder than facing up to it.
If someone has died, can we find a way to celebrate the person’s life as well as acknowledging their death? Perhaps you could light a memorial candle at the dinner table, or take some time to share special memories or stories. Humorous incidents recalled can have a special healing quality to them. Try not to ignore the fact that someone is missing this year, for to pretend that nothing has happened is so unnatural, it actually increases the tension.
e) Reduce your Anxiety
Anxiety finds its root in the fear of not being able to control things, and when someone dies, or adverse circumstances overwhelm you, everything feels like it is out of control. But while we may not be able to change the circumstances, we can decide what we are going to do now that this has happened. Over that at least we have some control.
The following words of the prophet Isaiah have a universal application to all who believe in God, a Higher Power or even “a better place”.
“I am the Lord your God who says to you,’ Fear not, for I will help.’” Isaiah 41:10
Fear not! Those were the first words spoken to the shepherds abiding in the field that first Christmas Eve. “Fear not.” In the midst of the darkness of your loss and feelings of fear or despair, the message and the gift of this season for you this year is “fear not … for I will help.”
Fear not, when emotions seem to overwhelm you with tears, confusion, forgetfulness, disorientation, anxiety, anger and guilt and a host of other distressing feelings. “Fear not … for I will help.”
Fear not, when you wonder how you will manage all the responsibilities you have to do by yourself now. Realise that it is not until you are in the situation that you find the strength you need to get through it. So “fear not … for I will help.”
Fear not, when people don’t understand when you are emotional, depressed or anxious or who tell you that you just have to get over it. These are hard days. But “fear not … for I will help.”
Fear not, when loneliness asks the question, “Will I be OK alone on this journey?” or in these times when you miss them so much that it hurts.
God has promised to help His people. And even in moments when we might question God’s presence or comfort, there are other angels like support groups, good friends, counsellors, pastors, doctors, funeral directors and other many other caregivers who would say “Fear not … for I will help.”
Franklin D Roosevelt in midst of the Great Depression stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Right now, in the desolation of missing someone we cared about we can say the same thing. So fear not. You will find the strength to get through this and find ways to go on.
So will you join me in making this commitment to yourself?
– I will not let myself feel like my life has ended, because it has not.
– I will not let this tragedy defeat, define or destroy me.
– I will help and support my family, and those whom our loved one cared about.
– I will go on with my life and seek to discover how it can still be meaningful even in the light of this loss.
– I will do whatever I can to carry on my loved one’s legacy and, while never forgetting them, find ways to make the most of what I still have left.
Make the most of this season, and if you do that, even though it may be anything but MERRY, you will find ways to make it MEANINGFUL.
In 1939, facing a bleak outlook and certain war, King George VI in his Christmas message to the nation, quoted a poem by Louise Haskins:
“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
These words struck a chord with the nation confronting and an uncertain future, as history records, the country rose to the challenge.
In 2021, just eight months after the death of her husband Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth delivered what would be her final Christmas message.
“Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones. This year, especially, I understand why. But for me, in the months since the death of my beloved Philip, I have drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work. His sense of service, intellectual curiosity and capacity to squeeze fun out of any situation were all irrepressible. That mischievous, enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him. But life, of course, consists of final partings as well as first meetings; and as much as I and my family miss him, I know he would want us to enjoy Christmas.”
This Christmas, possibly we grieve the loss of people we loved and also face an uncertain future. May the spirit of hope and resilience which Queen Elizabeth imparted throughout the years, even in the midst of her personal struggles, resonate with us and help to carry us through.
For those who are grieving, and those who want to help someone in grief, Dr. Bill Webster has an interactive website at www.griefjourney.com where you can find helpful articles and videos and many comforting resources. We are here to help.