When grief and the holidays meet, the results are often not pretty.
I had my first auto accident when I was 16. It was raining, and I took a curve too fast. I spun out of control, popped up the curb, and slammed head-on into a tree. The impact whipped me around, smashing the rear of the vehicle into another tree. I remember a hissing sound and steam pouring out of from under the hood. My door jammed, so I managed to slither out a half-open window. As I stood up, I discovered I was shaking. My 1966 Chevy Nova resembled a gnarled, red metal accordion. I felt dizzy. I took a deep breath, blinked, and slid to the ground. I had no idea how lucky I was.
Hitting an immovable object at any speed is not a pleasant experience. Some collisions are minor. Other are devastating.
A collision is coming
The calendar is littered with immovable objects – dates that get our attention, such as anniversaries and birthdays. Thanksgiving and Christmas sit there in big, bold letters. The season looms before us like a forest of Sequoias, and we’re getting closer every day. There’s going to be a collision.
I work as a chaplain and grief specialist for Hospice Brazos Valley in central Texas. As part of my grief ministry, I write resources for those who are hurting and trying to make some sense of their wounds and losses. On Sundays, I pastor a small, rural church about 20 minutes from my home. Just over a week ago, at another rural church 140 miles away (which is practically down the street when you live in Texas), a gunman clad in tactical gear walked in and shot almost everyone present, killing over two dozen, taking special pains to eliminate the children.
Shocking. Heinous. Unthinkable. Devastating. There are simply no words for such a thing.
The holidays are coming to Sutherland Springs, Texas, as they are to all of us. The collision between grief and these immovable spaces on the calendar will be significant.
How will Sutherland Springs survive this? How will we?
Can we do better than merely survive? How do we grieve well, and somehow not let our grief define us? Can we brace for this collision? How?
Dealing with the collision
One thing to remember is that the collision has essentially already taken place. The loss has already occurred. Our loved ones are gone. Our Chevy Nova is totaled. We sit on the ground, shaking, feeling the repercussions. We’re stunned. When our minds return, we wonder what’s next, and how in the world we will handle it. What will life be like now? Who will we be in this new world we find ourselves in?
“Happy Holidays?” Sounds ridiculous, like some emotional oxymoron. “Happy?” What is that?
The great collision has occurred. Our hearts have been hit. Our worlds have cracked. Our futures have been altered, perhaps forcibly. Thanksgiving and Christmas? How do we do this?
We love. That’s what we do.
We loved, therefore we grieve. We love, therefore we continue to grieve. As we mourn, we remember.
We speak their names, as often as possible. We tell their stories to anyone who will listen. We live their legacies. We seek to honor their memory in our thoughts, words, and actions.
We love them, and so we remember. We will not, and cannot, forget. And as we remember, we give thanks for them. We love them, so we celebrate – not so much with lights, window dressing, and holiday hoopla, but with wounded, appreciative hearts.
Our grief is deeply personal. Our loss is unique because our loved ones were one-of-a-kind. Our relationships were special. Others can relate and perhaps empathize, but our hearts and our grief are our own – ours alone.
Special. Lonely. A contradiction of love.
This season, we live the contradiction. We grieve because we love. Love endures. It always will.
We speak their names. We tell their stories. We live their legacies. We remember and honor them.
We will live, and be difference-makers that they would be proud of.
We will give thanks.
Question: As you think about your loved one, is there something you are particularly thankful for?