Tag Archives: memories

When Grief keeps coming back

I have an old friend who keeps coming back. Her name is Grief.

She’s been traveling a bit lately, and I haven’t missed her. But last night, while she was visiting someone else, she touched base with me again. The three of us had an unintentional conversation at a party, which is not a nice place for anyone to demand attention. (Grief gets around a lot, and she frankly doesn’t care when or where you interact with her. Only that you do.) She must not and cannot be ignored forever.

I have found that when she comes back, I must engage her in conversation, in contemplation, in tears, and in silence. I must acknowledge her in the middle of the night, for weeks, if necessary. I must think of her and feel her in the pit of my stomach during so many surprising daily occurrences–the smell of cookies, a book, a laugh, an expression, a necklace. A few dozen times a day, I’ve made space for her. She keeps showing up, clapping her hands. Demanding my audience.

Grief is not pleasant, but she is necessary. And she has such an exquisite memory! She can recall moments, both good and bad, with alarming clarity. She will help you recognize failings you never realized you had and virtues you never knew someone else had. She has the ability to stir in you so many unsatisfied longings–even ones you’ve worked hard to discard over the years. She’s not ashamed to pound them against your temples and compel you to consider questions that can never be answered:

Could you have done more, been more, loved more, forgiven more, enjoyed more?
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Handling joy and grief at the holidays

Christmas is memories. I almost lost it today trying to choose a picture of my mom and me together, so I could make a new Christmas ornament. I found the last “good” picture of us together, from April of this year, about 3 months before she died. All the pictures I took during her last week do not represent who she was. They are private, for me only. And she would kill me if they made it onto a Frasier fir.getimage-aspx

Memories are both joyful and sorrowful, yet they are equally important. The grief process must continue over time–perhaps until time ceases (that’s the hard part). So when our hearts hang heavy, and we close the door on grief to say, “I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore,” we halt the process toward joy. We are severing an arm to stop an infection, only to operate less fully. But the memories remain even after the arm is gone. Even a one-armed person will tell you that his brain continues to “use” the lost arm, even in its absence.

Since memories won’t go away, I have a few suggestions for preserving them, for celebrating the loss of the people you miss, especially at Christmas. That sounds like self-inflicted torture, I know. But I think it works to keep the heart mobile.

  1. Enjoy their things. Put them out and use them, but try to avoid creating a shrine. Don’t box them up. I do this all year, but at Christmas, I decorate a tree dedicated to love. It’s full of my mother and grandmother’s ornaments, as well as wedding and baby ones. Looking at it warms my heart. I have out their nativity and so many other things I remember ornamenting my mother and grandmother’s houses at Christmastime.img_4980
  2. Keep a picture or two visible of your happy  memories. Again, avoid the shrine, which creates gloom. There may be a time when you can’t look at their pictures. That’s okay. You can put them away for awhile; just set a date to bring them back out.
  3. Talk about them–recall adventures, quotations, and habits. Play a video if you can. I regret now that I only videoed my children growing up. I should have videoed my mother growing older. I would love to hear her voice right now and watch her funny faces.
  4. Do something that they would love doing with you; perhaps begin a new habit by taking someone with you to do something they loved. As a family, we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and remember my mom. I hear her laugh and see her tears at all the parts where she so predictably laughed and cried. I also make Christmas cookies with her cookie cutters and her recipe. We all gorge on cookies and remember Grandma.
  5. Talk to your missed love ones about your life and how much you appreciate them. My counselor says this is good therapy, so don’t think I’m crazy because I still talk to my mom. I recall all the things I said and all the things I wish I had said but didn’t, and that’s when I must rely on the good memories. I can’t change the past; I can only appreciate it and learn from it. If I give memory too much power, it will destroy the good moments right along with everything else, including my ability to feel them.
  6. Honor them with a charitable gift to something they would approve. This year, since I can’t buy my mom a gift, I’m buying a sewing machine for a woman in poverty, so she can learn a trade and provide for her family. I’m using the Vessels of Mercy gift catalog. My mother taught me to sew when I was in the second grade, and eventually, she stopped sewing me clothes and let me do all of it myself. This is a way I can pass her spirit along, like she passed it on to me.
  7. Your turn. What else can you do to enjoy the holidays while you miss someone? There’s so much more! Write and share your ideas for handling good and bad memories at the holidays (or all year).

Grief and joy hold hands in our hearts. To let go of one is to let go of both. Continue reading

10 things I love about Christmas


Who doesn’t love Christmas? There are so many reasons why I do. These are just 10 of the reasons I do, in approximate order:15253546_10155644849328782_2366822558660407054_n

  1. Decorating the Christmas tree–so many memories there: my childhood, my mother, my kids’ pictures, ornaments from all our vacations, marriage ornaments, little nativities; the lights, the smell, the ribbons. Love, love, love it. I have a tree in almost every room. I always put up at least 2 big trees, sometimes 3.
  2. Reading the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. I tear up every single time. And this will be a sign to you . . . and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.
  3. Buying my kids what they want instead of what they need (or a combination of both!); when they were little, we finally solved the “one more gift” cycle by settling on 3 individual gifts per kid from us: something they want, something they need, and a surprise. They were equally excited about each category. (The “something they need” category was never underwear or anything. Usually a bike or new cleats, or something cool like that.)
  4. Another year married to my husband (Our anniversary date is Dec. 22). We usually eat a fancy dinner downtown and spend the night. Our anniversary is a lovely reminder about grace and joy.15253604_10155644849488782_1978091970974870630_n
  5. Christmas music. I can’t get enough of it. Although, I do get frustrated with the radio stations, who apparently have to play “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” about a million times a day. There are thousands of Christmas songs, people. Play them all. Yes, even “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I love that one. And “Mary, Did You Know?”makes me cry every time I hear it. And then there’s The Messiah. Now I’m weeping. Can’t stop singing it in my head. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
  6. Vacation time. We sleep late, sit around in our jammies, eat big breakfasts, and stay up late watching movies. It’s Saturday every day, minus the chores. Even better if we can slip in some skiing or a field trip. Best of all, there’s lots of reading time and game time, my faves!15178142_10155644849528782_6831952670145837268_n
  7. Christmas lights. In Richmond, I like the Tacky Light Tour, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, the Jefferson Hotel, and the Omni Center, for starters. Downtown is especially nice with the Capital tree and a horse and buggy ride over cobblestones. It all feels quite Dickensesque, which brings me to my next category.
  8. Christmas stories. I can’t get enough of them. I see a Christmas show or two. I skim or watch some version of “A Christmas Carol”; then I add “It’s a Wonderful Life” (even better at the Byrd Theater), and “When Harry Met Sally” for New Years. We put “White Christmas,” “Home Alone,” “The Grinch,” “Elf,” and a few others through the movie rotation, but we don’t watch them all every year. And, of course, we hit the movie theater as a family a few times for new releases, invariably a new Star Wars movie or a musical. (Not Christmasy, but a necessary part of our routine.)
  9. Cookies–more than one kind at a time! (Heaven.) And fudge. And peppermint bark and frosted pretzels and hot chocolate. And when the kids were little, we always made a gingerbread house from scratch. All this eating is delightful, of course, but for me, but I enjoy the baking more. I stand in my kitchen in my Christmas apron stirring and pulling trays of cookies out of the oven, and my sons file through snitching and snacking and hugging me as they pass. Pure bliss.
  10. Family videos. Somehow, these don’t get watched during the year. After the kids grew up (and we stopped videoing them), we began pulling out the family videos on Christmas Day. A video starts up, and with a simple flash of a T-ball uniform or a bike with training wheels, and the alligator tears start rolling. I curl up in a pathetic, grieving posture, a mix of smiles and tears, and latch on to the nearest man-child. My kids make fun of me, but I tell them, “You’ll see! You’ll feel the same way some day!” All those little boy voices, the chubby cheeks, the myriad of Christmas mornings! I’m almost teary thinking about it now. Nothing is more sentimental and filled with blessing than a moving reel of your actual life, with the pain edited out.15219465_10155644849353782_4029204508752706794_n-1

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