In December, many of us celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, which are very happy times for the celebrants. Families come together, exchange gifts, and eat all different types of food. Years ago, I spent the holiday with my family in Ireland. My cousin shared with me that many Christmases ago the main meal was ruined because there was too much celebrating and she forgot that the meal was in the oven!
One of the key elements of this season is the giving of gifts. I believe survivors deserve a special gift during this season. By this, I mean that survivors should give themselves the gift of deciding that it’s acceptable to experience joy and happiness in the future. That is not something that is going to happen during the immediate and intense aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide.
In the initial stages of grief, one must deal with immense pain, but further on – at some point – survivors can give themselves permission to experience joy, happiness, and pleasure in the future. There is no set timetable for this and no “right” way to do it. It is just a decision that can be made at some point.
Sometimes there are obstacles to making this decision.
Wanting to stay connected: Some hold onto the pain because they think the pain is the last connection to their loved one. Survivors are always going to remember their loved ones and that is also the role of rituals. Rituals provide survivors with an exercise to remember loved ones who found life too painful to continue living.
Fear of Forgetting: Still another reason people hold on to pain is a fear of forgetting their loved ones. Again, that is the role of the ritual. Loved ones will always be a part of the lives of the people who loved them. I have never heard of survivors who have forgotten their loved ones. They do a lot of storytelling about these loved ones and the stories bring up the happier days when these loved ones were a part of a family and a circle of friends.
Guilt: Some survivors feel as if they have no right to experience joy or pleasure because their loved one took their life. This is a very normal reaction, however, survivors need to realize that although their loved ones died, they are alive and they have the right to have good times and to laugh. Survivors might not like the prospect of living a life without their loved one, but the alternative is to spend the rest of one’s life in the shadows, grieving their loss.
The grief journey is never over but there are opportunities in life that may be transformative or bring joy. For that to happen, survivors must be willing to be open to new situations. There is risk in such endeavors, yet very often the risk pays off. The first step is to make the decision to recreate one’s life and redirect one’s life into the world of renewed happiness and renewed pleasure – albeit different that it might be.
As always, I want to assure each member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers during my regularly scheduled quiet time. I encourage all of you to do the same for each other – and especially for those who are recently bereaved and who find these holidays so very painful.
Keep On Keepin’ On,
Fr. Charles Rubey