Thursday, December 24, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends This Christmas: Part 3

T'was the day before Christmas, when all through the house...

I wish I could say not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse in my home. But... we still have gift-wrapping to do and grocery shopping and cooking and baking.

And yet, I had to take a break from my holiday preparations to write the final post in this blog series. As I've connected with friends and family members, it seems I'm not the only one grieving loved ones this season. And I'm certainly not the only one working through hurts and disappointments and major life transitions.

So if you, or someone you love, is balancing loss and grief while also celebrating the most precious Gift we've ever received - our Savior, Jesus Christ - this post is for you.

In my first two posts, I shared the two ways to help a grieving loved one during the holidays: expressing empathy and the Gift of Presence. Today I want to share another. It's pretty simple, but I've had confirmation over the last few days that this is the thought I'm supposed to share with you.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I experienced my first day of national tragedy. I wasn't born when Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy were assassinated. I had never watched a nation mourn together. Not until 9/11.

And mourn we did.

The mantra birthed out of 9/11 was "Never Forget". We had no power to bring back the thousands of lives lost on that day. We could do very little to console the thousands who lost a mother, father, child, spouse or friend that day. 

But we did what we could. We spoke words of love and blessing. We held prayer vigils.


So as I complete this blog series today, I want to share one more way to help those around us that find themselves grieving this Christmas.


One constant about grief is that there's very little that's constant about grief. The way I grieve might differ greatly from the way you grieve. I process my grief out loud. I write about it. I talk about it. I share what I'm feeling with my sisters, my husband Anthony, my children and close friends.

Others grieve more internally, processing within their minds and hearts. They don't need to talk about it. But it's just as real. Just as present in their lives as in mine.

Yet one commonality in the area of grief is this: We want to know that our loved ones haven't been forgotten. We love to hear others honor our loved ones and share funny or sweet stories about them. It blesses us to know that we're not the only ones missing our loved ones. It can be painful to watch how life moves on, when we know our lives have been forever altered.

We simply want and need to know that they are remembered.

So this holiday, let others know you remember their loved one.

Let them know you're praying for them... because you remember.

Send a text message, Facebook message or card... because you remember.

Tell them you're aware that this Christmas might be tough... because you remember.

It's a simple thing to do. But it means so much.

I remember just a few weeks ago, Anthony told me he was really missing my parents. It was a regular day, but for some reason he felt the loss a bit more. I have those days too, but it blessed me to know that he did too. It blessed me to know that I wasn't along in my grief. It blessed me to know that he simply remembered.

This Christmas, you and I can share love with others that might be hurting this very moment. I can think of several precious people in my life that are experiencing all manner of loss and pain. I bet you can too.

This Christmas, let's love like Jesus did. Isaiah 53 describes Him this way...

"He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried."

This Christmas let's be grief-bearers and sorrow-carriers. 

This Christmas let's simply REMEMBER.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends This Christmas: Part 2

When I reflect on my family's recent relocation back to Tennessee, I think of all that moving brings.

Change. Excitement. Intrigue. 

Moving can be a really cool "reset button"... Giving us the opportunity to begin again, experience a season of renewal, reinvent ourselves even.

I've experienced all these joys since we've moved back to Tennessee. Some days I'm overwhelmed with the blessing of moving to a city we love and reconnecting with precious friends we made during our first season in Franklin. An added bonus: we've been blessed to meet new friends and begin jobs with wonderful ministries - New Hope Academy for me and Nashville Rescue Mission for Anthony.

But moving has another side... Like almost any other major change it brings a whole other list of things.

Stress. Disorientation. Grief.

Along with the reset button of relocation comes the reminder of all the wonderful things and people we left behind in Arkansas - and in Northern Virginia and even in our birthplace, Maryland. Every now and then I find myself longing for yesterday and the life I've left behind.

When I wrote the first post in this blog series, I began writing out of a desire to help friends and family members grieving loved ones this holiday. I thought of those entering the holiday while suffering major illness. I especially wanted to reach out to those I know personally that may even be facing their final days here on earth. I also thought of my sisters and myself who lost our parents earlier this year, but I realize we're certainly not alone in our grief.

What I hadn't thought about were the other kinds of grief we face throughout life as well. Divorce. Loss of a job. Even relocating to a new town. The list could go on and on.

So it's with this backdrop that I share the second way to help grieving friends survive the holidays... The gift of PRESENCE.

Yes, you read that right - presence. Not presents - although it's certainly the season of giving. (And I'm too excited about the Starbucks gift card my coworker presented to me just yesterday, by the way. "Uh yes, I'll have a grande peppermint mocha please." Pardon me. I digress...)

The gift of presence is the gift that keeps on giving. I'll never forget the hundreds of friends that showed up for my parents' services and visited with us in my parents' home after they'd passed. There were folks from my old neighborhood, old classmates from all my schools - even elementary, and so many church members from my parents' church and my old church in Baltimore.

I'll always remember the many people that visited with my parents in the hospital. Each day, as I sat beside my Mom or my Dad, I never knew who might walk in for a short visit. Our next door neighbor that I hadn't seen in 20 years. My mother's sorority sisters. My parents' pastors. Some precious friends of mine that still live in Maryland. Some of the most profound conversations I had this year were in that hospital - with people who cared enough to simply show up and be there.

That season was like an ongoing reunion for me, and I felt so blessed that so many took time from their busy lives to simply share the gift of presence.

So... This holiday season, while we shop for our children's and grandchildren's wish lists, bake those delicious cookies, and decorate our homes and Christmas trees, let's take a look around us. Who's hurting this holiday? Who might need an extra hug right now? Who needs us to meet them for a quick meal or quick cup of coffee in the midst of all this hustle and bustle? Is a face or two coming to mind right now? A few have come to my mind for sure.

It doesn't take a lot of money to love people well. Simply showing up can be relatively inexpensive. This Christmas, give someone the gift that will keep on giving. The gift that will bless them for years to come. The gift that will bring sweet memories and a smile to someone's face maybe even years from now.

This Christmas, let's give the gift of presence.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3 Ways to Help Grieving Friends this Christmas: Part 1

This week I experienced another "first".

Of course having just relocated back to Tennessee, I've experienced lots of firsts. My first Thanksgiving back in Franklin. My first day of work at New Hope Academy.

But this week I experienced another kind of "first".

On Wednesday, December 9th, I had my first birthday without my parents.

Earlier this year I shared quite a bit about my parents' illnesses, and a few weeks later, their deaths. It's been a difficult year without them. Their absence has left a hole in my heart. A place that I don't think anything or anyone will fill. It's a space that I think even Jesus will allow to remain empty until I see Him face-to-face. Until I see my parents again too.

As Christmas quickly approaches, I've been thinking about what the holiday will be like without my parents. Almost every Christmas we've traveled 18 hours to spend the holiday with our families in Maryland.

This year will be so different without my parents. 

They will be sorely missed.

So as I work through the emotions of approaching my first Christmas without my parents, I am also thinking of others that are grieving during this time.

It only takes a scroll down my Facebook newsfeed to see what others are dealing with at this time:

  • An old schoolmate and coworker in her forties who recently lost her husband
  • A friend and co-laborer in foster care ministry whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a week after her adoption was finalized
  • A lady from my old church facing the unknowns of cancer that is no longer responding to treatment, and the uncertainties facing her husband and 8 kids

One thing's for sure this Christmas -- people are rejoicing and grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Savior. BUT lots of people are hurting too. This dichotomy points to the paradox of the cross. We are joyful for the Savior's death and resurrection that offers us new life in Christ.

But the cross began with Jesus' death. I can only imagine the pain and sorrow the cross brought Jesus, His mother Mary and his closest followers and friends.

So as we approach Christmas with all manner of difficulties facing us, I'd like to share a few ways we can support those hurting around us. I'll share the first today...

We Can Empathize with Grieving Friends

A huge way to bless others when they're grieving, especially during the holidays, is to simply say, "I'm so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you." We don't have to have all the answers or give a sermonette on why a person should have joy despite their loss. 

Here's why...

One emotion that often accompanies grief is GUILT. When a soldier loses fellow soldiers in combat, she usually experiences survivor's guilt. When a person's entire family dies in a car accident, and he somehow escapes the wreckage with a few bumps and bruises, s(he) also experiences survivors guilt. This kind of guilt brings with it the question, "Why was I the one spared?" This kind of guilt is often unfounded, but totally understandable.

When I lost my parents, I didn't expect to experience a similar kind of guilt. I had flown back and forth from Arkansas so I could be by my parents' sides in the hospital. I had conversation after conversation with their doctors. I followed their vitals reports, knew when their white blood counts went up and their red blood counts when down and discussed every "procedure" (the new name for surgery) that they were encouraged to have.

But with all the advances of medicine, it was my parents' time to go. My father seemed to know this. He'd said several times to me in the hospital, "Well, I'm thankful. God gave me 80 years." He'd bragged so often about reaching age 80. My sisters Lori and Sherri and I had no idea it would be his last year with us.

He passed away on January 20, just 3 days shy of his 81st birthday.

When my Daddy passed, I was back in Arkansas with my husband and four children. He and my Mom's health had stabilized, and I figured I'd return quickly if either took a turn for the worst. But my father passed with very little warning. I had no opportunity to return before he passed. I struggled with that for weeks. I felt guilty for having left. 

I also felt guilty for not doing enough for my parents. For not pushing the doctors to take stronger measures sooner and more often. For not insisting my father rest more during my mother's illness. I think I created things to feel guilty about.

I share this heartbreaking aspect of grief to simply share this thought... When a person grieves a loved one, they can often be plagued by guilt. This guilt might be unfounded. It might be completely incomprehensible. But it's very real.

Also, this guilt makes it a terrible time time to pour on more guilt. After all, a Christian that's grieving knows that God is still good. (S)he probably knows that Jesus is still the reason for the season. They also know that their family member would want them to continue to embrace life and experience joy during this season.

What grieving souls do need is a reminder that we are still loved by the family and friends that are still with us. We do need to know that others hurt for and with us. We definitely need to know that our loved ones lives were a blessing and that they are missed by others too.

What we need is empathy. Not pity. Not a sermon. And definitely not more guilt.

Empathy is love in action. Empathy is an emotional hug. Empathy says, "I care about you and love you right where you are."

This Christmas, the first gift we can wrap and present to those hurting around us is empathy.