When Hope Grieves

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.

Xmas candleBut what if we’re smack in the middle of grief? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

Three possibilities float to the surface:

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Bake it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you unwind and arrange the lights, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house, but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than the empty chair beside the table. It’s a reminder of loss — a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who cannot fly hundreds of miles to be home for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with the other family
  • A homeless person who longs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand how grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES move forward. We don’t have to remain stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We still have some of the gift s/he gave us. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Revel in those precious reminders and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh — keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Keeps It Simple

xmas-mantel-2016Because this year has taught me so many valuable aspects of a simplified life, I have decided to merge the Great Purge of 2016 into my Christmas celebration.

What once was a month filled with activities and the traditional set-up to the holidays, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify Christmas?
  • What gives me the most joy about Christmas?
  • Why is a simpler Christmas important?

To simplify Christmas, I am making the following changes:

Christmas Cards

Although I love sending cards for various reasons throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing almost 100 Christmas cards has become overkill. I am simplifying the process.

If you are one of my readers who regularly receives a Christmas card from me – be forewarned. Yes, I still think you are important and a valued person in my life. However, I’m setting a card boundary and you may be deleted from my list.

This year, I am saving time, money and energy. If you really need a greeting, here it is: Merry Christmas!

Christmas Treats

In the past, I have baked, stirred and frosted special treats for my neighbors, the postman, co-workers and anyone else in my life who did not receive a special store-bought gift.

I no longer need to make treats nor do I need to be tempted by the cookie dough in my large bowl or the smell of rising breads. My kitchen table will not be spread with powdered sugar treats we called People Puppy Chow.

I am relieved, because I usually eat at least half of them. This year I am protecting my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar.

Not even the traditional peppernut recipe will tempt me this year. I am setting a culinary boundary.

If you visit me and expect a Christmas treat, you may be served a rice cake with tuna fish salad on top. Try it! I promise it’s good.

Christmas Decorations

As a Martha Stuart wannabe, my house often sported decorations in every room. When I lived in an old fixer-upper filled with antiques, my house became the neighborhood gathering place for the holidays: the smell of cranberry cider, red and white gingham bows tied to the kitchen cabinet hardware, various trees throughout the house and a gift bag for every visitor.

I still love walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year, but I don’t buy the stuff anymore.

Since the stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel looks sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creationxmas-mantel-2016 accented with little pearl lights.

Many of my decorations I sacked up to give away, and it felt good to share with others the beauty of my past.

My little tree still works with its tiny pre-lit globes. Once it begins to fail, I will throw it away and buy one of those tiny table Christmas trees. No need to vacuum fallen needles or wrestle with smashing the tree into the box on New Year’s Day.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it.

The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I will plan gifts for my son, my nephew and my nieces. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The Christmas surprise of 2016 is the joy all this simplifying has brought me. More room in my storage shelves because there’s less stuff to store. More space in each room because each room contains less stuff. More things to give away and hopefully share joy with someone else.

The essential leftovers give me pleasure because I have made the choice to surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy. Everything else can be given away or thrown away.

And in the decision to simplify my Christmas, I believe joy will follow me into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of Christmas and let me know in the comments how you’re celebrating.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh