Hark! The Herald Angels Really Do Sing

My mother asks me each and every week what I will be writing about in my column, hoping it will include her.

My husband asks me each and every week what I will be writing about in my column, hoping it doesn't include him.

They had similar reactions this week when I told them I was going to attack the subject of grief.

Mom said, "That's heavy."

Hubby said, "That will just make everyone sad."

I said, "A lot of people are already sad.  That's the point."

So, I am writing about grief.  If that's too burdensome to consider, step away from the newspaper and continue stringing those cranberries.  I won't hold it against you.

I want to talk about grief for a couple of reasons.

As a former Hospice nurse, I have seen my share of grief, and I know the holidays can be a time of sorrow, anguish and dread for those who have lost loved ones.

It can be hard, if not impossible, to feel the joy of Christmas.

I have been there personally, too.  My father, for whom I thought the sun rose and set, died in October 2003.  We had barely finished thank yous for condolences, when it was time for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then a new year without Dad.

It was overwhelming to face the empty chair at the table, and to continue with the traditions of which he had been a part.

I would see people in public, shopping, laughing, and I would think, "How can you be so happy and so busy?  Don't you realize my father is dead?"

The first Christmas season without Dad reflected the measure of loss we were feeling.

Mom and I decided everyone in the family needed a puppy.  And not just any puppy.  We drove through numerous counties looking for purebred Weimaraners and Mastiffs, and personally delivered them to my brothers.

Money was not a consideration.  We were on a mission.

Looking back, I'm surprised we didn't carry a banner:  "Dad's dead!  Buy a dog!"

The buying spree didn't end there.  We bought gifts from Dad to us.  Dad got me a mantle clock that year.  He gave Mom a ring and a watch.  Even in death, he was generous.

It all sounds crazy.

It was.  But it helped us get through.

I am not a counselor or an expert of any kind, but allow me to share what I know for sure about grief at the holidays.

Grief is really hard work.  At the Visiting Nurse Association Hospice, we had a wonderful pastoral counselor in Father John Jordan.  He reminded us consistently that, "You have to feel it and reveal it, to heal it."

There is no denying grief.  You can't make it go away, and if you try, it will be more than willing to wait for you.

Grief is a sneaky character.  You can be humming right along with your day when- Bam!- there he is.

At first he can be a persistent pain, an all-consuming force to be reckoned with.  The good news is, as time goes on, you will have the strength to choose how much energy you allow him.

It's OK to let things slide.  Now is a time to be gentle with yourself.  Grief is both an emotional and physical response to a loss.

Caring for yourself is a priority.  You may or may not feel like baking cookies or getting a tree.  Perform at your ability.

Surround yourself with good company.  I think the death of a loved one gives us a clear focus on who and what are really important in our lives.

Allow yourself the luxury of being particular.

You are not alone, even though you feel alone.  There is hope, though you question where.  We celebrate the birth of Christ.  But, more importantly, we celebrate the resurrection after His death.

In John Wesley's song "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing," we are reminded Christ was "born that man no
more may die."

Hark!  The herald angels do sing.

And, there will come a day when you'll be able to hear them again.

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