Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 20, 2019

"Blue Christmas"

While Christmas is a time for joy and merry-making, the season can be difficult for those who are ill, are "down and out" or have lost loved ones. The pain they experience is amplified by the obvious happiness of those enjoying the holidays.

One attempt at reducing the suffering for those whose relatives died during the year is a service of hope and remembrance. Brother Dave, whose wife Linda died in August, recently attended one called "Blue Christmas" hosted by a hospice organization in Salina.

After Dadís death in November 2002, Mom and I attended a similar service. My feelings about it were mixed. It was helpful to know others were facing similar losses, but it also made my heart ache.

A friend, whose wife died in January and who lost a close friend recently, is thinking about them. He said he was going to use some of the lyrics on his greeting card this year from "Cycles," a song written by Gayle Caldwell and recorded by Frank Sinatra in the late 1960s.

So Iím down and so I'm out
But so are many others
So I feel like tryin' to hide
My head Ďneath these covers

Life is like the seasons
After winter comes the spring
So Iíll keep this smile awhile
And see what tomorrow brings

Iíve been told and I believe
That life is meant for livin'
And even when my chips are low
Thereís still some left for givin' ...

My first husband Jerome had a stroke the day after Christmas in 1985 and died about five weeks later. I was four months pregnant. That following Christmas was excruciating.

Yet even then, I knew I had many things to look forward to. Our daughter Mariya was 5-months-old - and seeing the holiday through her very young eyes helped me get through it. I planned to skip sending Christmas cards that year, but I eventually composed one that ended with a poem I wrote for her:

The tree's lights sparkled in your eyes.

You reached for the string
of twinkling red, green, blue, yellow and pink

And the magic of Christmas
flickered in my heart - even if only for a moment.

You ARE my Christmas. I love you so.

Iím not an expert on grief, but Iíve learned through the years how to handle my own and a bit about how to help others. A year after Jerome died, I wrote a column - "Time, friends will conquer grief" - that was published in the K-State Collegian, the student newspaper. I recently sent a copy to Dave, hoping that it might help him.

In that piece, I wrote about how resilient the human spirit is and how valuable family and friends were in helping me through the grieving process. I also gave some tips on how people can help others who are grieving. Among my advice then, which still holds today:

- Don't ignore them. Reach out, and even if the words "Iím sorry" don't come, at least hold their hand ...
- Don't pretend the situation is normal or that it will ever be "normal" again.
- Let the person talk about the one who died.
- Invite them out, but pick a particular date and place.

For the grieving person, I found things that helped me:

- Try to reach out to others. Don't hole up at home by yourself.
- Balance going out with others and time to yourself. You can't be moving so fast you don't allow yourself time to think.
- Ask people who knew your loved one to write what they remember about him or her.
- Don't deny your feelings of anger, depression, panic or whatever. They're all normal and they don't mean youíre going crazy.
- Stay away from other major changes in your life, such as moving or changing jobs.
- Realize there's nothing magic to take the pain away and no magic timetable on which to judge your progress. Grief is hard work. Grief has changed your life.
- Remember that death is inevitable, but so is life. No, it will never be the same again. But if you let it, it can be good again. Eventually, the sunshine will get through and you'll again be glad to be alive.

Balancing old holiday traditions with creating new ones is helpful. Linda's favorite time of year was Christmas. And so, like me 33 years ago, Dave feels like he doesnít want to acknowledge Christmas' approach. But his son Michael and family went to his home and decorated it - replicating the way they remember Linda did it. Having three young grandsons nearby and three more grandchildren coming for the holiday will help Dave cope this first Christmas without Linda.

It is also important to realize that each person is different. Reflecting on past times spent with a person we have lost can be comforting for some, while reinforcing the loss for another. Husband Art's family members seem to find solace in the idea of not emphasizing what is gone, but instead focusing on what was gained by having the person in their lives. Retelling funny stories about the person is one way to do that.

Something that helped me was remembering Jerome's knack for making the most out of every day. He wrote a note to his parents in a 1979 New Year's Eve letter. Despite his being a writer, I wondered if he had read it somewhere. But if he had, I have been unable to locate the source. But whether he wrote these words or they merely resonated with him, they describe well not just how to handle the holidays, but every day as well.

... Look not to the past, for it is only a shadow of what has been. Look toward the future, for there the light shines and illuminates the path we must travel. But most of all, live in the present and realize that with each new day the sun still rises and we still hold the key to life.

Mariya and Gloria, Christmas 1986. As grief loosens its hold, mood swings can be sudden and dramatic. On the right, Christmas with a new baby was for a moment everything Christmas should be. But moments such as the one caught on the left prompt thinking of the person who is missing.

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Other columns from 2019 may be found at: 2019 Index.
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