For those who have recently lost a loved one, this time of year it seems there is nowhere to hide from our grief. Though we may busy ourselves with the many activities of the holiday season, at one point or another, we’ll come face-to-face with a memory that makes our loss feel fresh again.
A few months ago, I took over the bereavement counseling ministry at Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes from Father Bob Rossi, who had served our community faithfully for many years. I recently visited with someone who was recounting her many happy Christmas memories with her family. She told me she didn’t know what to do this year because her loved one isn’t here to share in those traditions, and she can’t quite face going it alone.
A large part of my ministry is listening to people share the grief they feel in the aftermath of a loss. I encourage them to tell their stories, to not be afraid to remember. It is painful for them, but it is OK for it to be painful. Feeling the keen sadness after a loss is part of what makes us human, and God is with us when we suffer.
They often look for guidance, wanting me to offer a suggestion for how they should handle the holidays and family members who, with their best interests at heart, are encouraging them to participate in things they don’t have the strength to do this year. I remind them how important it is to be honest with themselves. They shouldn’t feel the need to pretend that everything is OK – neither to themselves nor to those around them.
“The most important thing to remember is that God is grieving with you… As Catholics, we look forward to the day we will be reunited in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Grieving takes time, but that doesn’t mean you should stop celebrating, either. After all, happiness is just as natural a part of life as sadness, and there’s no right way to observe the holidays after a loss. Whether you want to surround yourself with new traditions and social events or you prefer to commemorate the occasion quietly on your own, listen to your heart and celebrate as you see fit.
The most important thing to remember is that God is grieving with you. Although you may feel alone during what is supposed to be a season of joy, remember that God is by your side through it all. For your departed loved one, life has not ended. It’s only changed. As Catholics, we look forward to the day we will be reunited in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Fr. Stephan Bauer, CSC, is a Bereavement Counselor at Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes.