Amidst those frantically shopping, decorating and gathering at holiday parties this season, there are people who dread the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and wish it would all go by quickly.
Like many major family holidays, Christmas can trigger sadness for those longing for lost loved ones and times that have gone by.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville recognizes that part of their call during the holy events is to create a safe place for people just trying to get through it without too much pain.
“Surviving the Holidays” is a two-hour day class the church held Nov. 30 for people mourning the loss of a loved one and struggling to see joy during the season, said class leader, church member and widow Lynn Cunningham.
A dozen people who lost spouses, children and parents attended to share their grief and learn strategies to cope with the pain the holidays can bring.
“It can be really, really difficult for those who have lost someone,” said Cunningham, 75, of Gainesville. “You just feel like going to sleep the day after Thanksgiving and waking up in January.”
Cunningham, who is also a Stephen Ministry-trained counselor, can relate to her students. She lost her husband 13 years ago after 41 years of marriage.
“We had a lot of Christmases together,” she said. “And he loved Christmas. He loved to
decorate. There is a certain sadness when the holiday starts, and there are always a few triggers.”
But, she teaches her students that with a little front-end management, they can enjoy the holiday again and find the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Her most important piece of advice for those mourning a loss is to get emotionally prepared before all the fuss and activity of the season.
Her top tips are:
- Recognize that it’s going to be tough. Accept that you’re going to have some sad emotions and some problems.
- Take care of yourself. Don’t overburden yourself.
- Ask for help when you are having a problem.
- If someone asks you to a holiday party, drive yourself, so it won’t be a big deal for you to leave early.
- Come up with new traditions.
- Accept the new normal.
Cunningham says that though it is common for friends and family of those suffering to try to push them to get over the loss and enjoy the season, it isn’t helpful for those grieving.
Avoiding the holidays doesn’t help, either, she said. “As much as we would like to make it go away, it isn’t reality and it doesn’t help.”
Instead, grieving is the best way to heal, and it’s a journey that can’t be rushed, she offered.
“A grieving person has to go through the grief journey in order to come out a whole person. Going through grief is like going through a tunnel,” she further suggested. “The tunnel is long, it’s cold, it’s dark, and you don’t want to go through it. But, you have to make yourself go through it, and if you keep focused on the light, you come through it,” she said. “You will experience joy again. The human spirit wants to feel joy. That light at the end of the tunnel is God.”
This is the second year that Trinity offered the evening course, and Cunningham said they will likely do it every year. The class is an offshoot of the GriefShare recovery program the church holds twice a year.
Cunningham also recommends that churches throughout the Florida Conference offer a class at the start of the holiday season because every church has someone in its midst suffering through what is usually a time to celebrate.
“Be aware that a person who has lost a loved one may need an extra phone call, or maybe take them to lunch or drop them a card,” she advises congregants. “Be aware. Be gentle. Be kind.”
--Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville