A word from Pope Francis ~ “Advent is a time of waiting for our Lord, who will visit us all in our own hearts. The Lord is coming! Let us wait for Him!”
The Third Sunday of Advent – already! During the first part of Advent, our Sunday and daily Scripture readings have shown us how Jesus fulfilled Israel’s longings by his compassionate ministry. He challenged us to do the same. Next Saturday, we will shift into the second part of the season, setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas in a little over a week. While many of us can’t wait for Christmas to arrive, there are some among us who wish it would never come. In view of that, I would like to share with you some thoughts on “holiday grief.”
For many of us, the holidays are a joyful and welcome time. Special celebrations are loaded with family traditions and cherished memories. Traditions create roots and connect us with our past, no matter where we might find ourselves this year. But for those who have experienced a significant loss, traditions can magnify the pain of the loss. Losses such as a deceased family member, close friend or even pet, changes due to a separation or divorce, the loss of old rituals like everyone “coming home” or being present (including those currently serving in the military), or COVID-related losses are all intensified during the holidays.
One of the most common difficulties with grief is that we often expect ourselves or others to recover quickly following a loss. The common pattern seems to be that it takes a minimum of one full year before we can even begin to return to what we might consider “normal life.” In regular, everyday circumstances, the holidays can be emotionally and physically draining. But for those who have experienced a significant loss of one kind or another, the holidays are very vulnerable times. Nothing feels the same. What used to be anticipated with much joy is now dreaded. Memories are triggered by the simplest things – a special Christmas carol, the smell of holiday foods or a family recipe (like mom’s ravioli or lasagna), or a cherished Christmas ornament – just to name a few. Sometimes it might be years after we have experienced a loss when something familiar takes us back to our time of grief. It is as if a dark cloud suddenly descends upon us in the midst of a joyful celebration. We find ourselves wondering, “What is wrong with me?” The honest answer is, “Nothing!” Grief works that way.
If we have experienced a significant loss in the past few years, we need to be patient with ourselves and with the pace at which we grieve. Talking with someone in whom we trust about what we are feeling can be helpful. Being flexible with past traditions is also very important. Traditions may need to be changed. In the year following my dad’s death, we put the Christmas tree in a different spot in the house. Things aren’t the same as they used to be and feeling the need to recreate the past is often not very helpful. New traditions may actually be just what we need.
Those of us who have not experienced a significant loss in the past few years need to be attentive to those among us who have. One of the best gifts we can give to those who are grieving is permission to talk about what they are feeling. Tell them you want to hear the old stories again and to keep the memory alive rather than pretend that nothing has changed. Space in which to grieve can be a priceless gift. I hope that these thoughts are helpful. Whether we have experienced a recent loss, or are with someone who has, it is important to be attentive to our own needs and those among us.
Please note that the starting time our first Masses on Christmas Eve has been changed to 3:00 pm – both in the main Church and in the Chapel. A year ago, we were given the option of celebrating the first Christmas Mass at 3:00 pm. With the number of families with small children attending that Mass, we thought it best to begin the celebration then. Both Church and Chapel – Christmas Eve Mass at 3:00 pm.
There are busy days ahead of us as we continue our preparations. They can also be beautiful days, as the anticipation level rises in young and young-at-heart people. God can be found in both the activity and in the quiet. I pray that we will be able to recognize God’s presence among us in each moment. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy