Grief and celebrations

This is social advice mostly for those who know someone who is grieving. It’s a time of year when many of us gather in celebration, so it’s timely advice.

The world around you celebrates, and that magnifies your sense of loss and diminishes your ability to enjoy the holidays. Most of us who have had significant losses will dread some part of every major holiday, anniversary and event. The discomfort fades with time, but grief never disappears.

In my most honest voice I will state, without judgment, that after we lost our son we were invited to fewer celebrations and seasonal parties. People in your social circle are uncomfortable and unsure how your grief will affect their celebration. You will bring the invisible elephant of grief to their party, and create the inevitable quandary of whether or not we talk about this loss, and what will we or they say.

Is it even appropriate to invite someone who has lost a child to a friendly Christmas party? Let me be clear, we have lost and are grieving, but we aren’t contagious with the black plague. We need to be around people, we need to re-integrate into normal social practices. We don’t require isolation. We may accept your invitation, and then not find the strength to show up, and we may avoid calling to explain.

We will notice if you don’t include us in your invitation list to a regular event that you host among friends. We know that we have changed, we didn’t choose that, and we’re getting used to that. We can’t really hurt more, but it does still hurt when the challenges that life brought to us have changed the simpler love based relationships like friendship. Friends gather to celebrate their love for each other and if we’re your friend we deserve to be part of any such gathering.

After the untimely health related death of a key employee, we were invited by his parents to their home for a family dinner. They had set a place at the table for their lost son, with a picture of him, an acknowledgement that he was still with all of us. It was a great opening to much purposeful and honest sharing of stories about the life lost.

I try to share happy stories of our son at family holiday dinners. Our grandchildren know about their uncle James, who died before they were born. They ask questions, and express that they would have liked to meet him. They recognize him in family pictures. He’s a part of us and now he’s a part of the next generation. It fosters a sense of gentle sense of meaning for any life, a sense that memories of them will endure among their children and grandchildren.  Children will one day try to grieve as they have seen you grieve. Let tears and emotion be a part of that, but also let the happy times shine over the life you loved.

My advice to those hosting parties with newly grieving people attending would be to ask their permission for you to say a few words about their loss, and end your very few words with a moment of silence. Then, the elephant in the room is no longer invisible, and everyone knows a bit about your grief. More people will talk more constructively and comfortably about life, love and inevitably grief.

We, who grieve major losses, can eventually find much greater joy in the simple basic acts of sharing love with friends.  It’s a study in contrasts, the lower your lowest point is, the higher every high point feels and the more we appreciate those joyful moments that we thought we might have lost.

So, be the good friend, don’t look for excuses. Invite those who are grieving to come and share your holiday celebration, your child’s wedding, or any excuse you may use for a party. You’ll learn much about yourself and how you view love and loss in the process, and you will have extended the gift of love of simple kindness to someone who could use some simple kindness.

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