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Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

As long as there are rituals these loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten.

As we enter the month of November, we begin the holiday season. For grieving people, this is a very painful time of year because a loved one has died. When a loved one has died from suicide the family system has been permanently altered by a seemingly senseless act that with the proper intervention might have been prevented.

I am a firm believer that families that grieve together stand a better chance of coming to grips with the grief as compared to family members who go off and grieve on their own. With the holidays approaching, I suggest that families gather together and have some type of ritual to remember that loved one who found life so painful that they could no longer endure the pain of mental anguish. The ritual is a vehicle whereby a loved one can remain a part of a family, albeit in a different type of presence.

Their presence is more mystical than physical, but they are present all the same. They remain a part of a family system even though they have gone to the hereafter. They still have a name and are loved by the survivors and have been a part of a family so why shouldn’t they have a part in family festivities? Will there be tears as they are remembered? Probably yes. Tears are OK. Will these tears ruin the festivities for the rest of the participants? I hope not. The alternative is to fake it through and not mention this loved one’s name even though this name is on every person’s mind and this person is very much missed.

I suggest that families confront the issue head on and then get on with the festivities. Address the missing person directly and have some tears and then move on with the celebration. To avoid this loved one can lead to guilt and remorse that this cherished name and person was avoided and ignored. That is too high a price to pay along with the normal guilt and remorse that oftentimes accompanies a death from suicide.

Some family members might choose not to participate. That is OK. It might be too much for them to endure. They should not be penalized because they avoided the ritual. It is important to remember that people grieve differently.

Overall, I am a firm believer that as we remember our loved ones through rituals they continue to be a part of a family system. Remember that a tragedy worse than losing a loved one to suicide is if these loved ones were to be forgotten. As long as there are rituals these loved ones will always be a part of our families and part of a family system. They are gone but not forgotten.

It takes some creativity to get a ritual together. The ritual can be very simple as a toast before a meal and wishing this loved one peace and goodwill. The person’s picture can be displayed in a prominent place of honor. A candle can be lit in memory of this loved one. A song can be sung or played in memory of this person. A prayer can be offered or a scripture passage can be recited…. The important point is that these loved ones are remembered during these holiday times. Will the gatherings be ruined by such a ritual? I don’t think so. The first few holidays without this loved one take on a very different tone and are very painful. Every succeeding holiday is different because this loved one is missing. The ultimate goal is to be able to remember this loved one without going to pieces. This takes time and a lot of practice. The rituals help in the practice and allow family members to develop a comfort level with this missing person.”

Excerpted from:”From the desk of Father Rubey, Obelisk Newsletter, Nov 2005. Father Charles Rubey is the Founder and Director of the LOSS Program, The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.