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A Meaningful Christmas

Written by Dr Bill Webster

I realise that for many of you, this past year has brought an unexpected twist in your life journey. I am always very conscious that when someone you care about dies, your world changes. For you, the world looks and feels different and with it this Christmas. For everyone else, it is the season to be jolly; it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But understandably, you probably don’t feel the same about your world this festive season.

So, this year, I would like to give you three gifts for a grieving Christmas. My first gift is for you. Maybe you are facing this Christmas season with dread. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Recognise this Christmas is different.
  • Plan ahead. Decide what you want to do. Act rather than react.
  • Re-examine your priorities.
  • Avoid “should do’s” and “ought to’s”
  • Make the changes that you think are best.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness.
  • Look after yourself. Don’t abandon healthy habits.
  • Be compassionate with yourself if things are not perfect this year.

The next gift focuses on your loved one. They may be gone, but I am sure they will be very much on your mind:

  • Acknowledge your loved one’s presence.
  • Create a special tribute to your loved one. Involve children in this if you can.
  • Light a memorial candle to remember them at this season.
  • Be honest about your feelings and be sensitive to what they are trying to say.
  • Don’t be afraid to relive your memories.  After all, it’s those loving memories that help us to keep them alive in our hearts.
  • Let the light of the Christmas’s past shine on the event, rather than letting the event cast its shadow of this Christmas.

My final gift has to do with others around you like family and friends, who are probably grieving too:

  • Balance solitude and sociability.
  • Ask for AND accept help.
  • Set differences aside
  • Learn to say ‘No’
  • Take a break from things.
  • Try to find something positive in your life.
  • Take care of any children that may be involved.
  • Try to do something to help someone else who is hurting.
  • Remember, there will be other Christmas’s, even though that may not help THIS one.

Finally, we need to face the future with hope. There’s a little verse in the Christmas story of the Wise Men that often goes unnoticed. After finding the baby in Bethlehem, they returned home “by a different route.’ They had to find a different road forward than the way they had come. When you have experienced bereavement, you suddenly find life has taken on a whole new direction.  We find ourselves and our lives, having to go on in a whole new direction. Sometimes in life, we have to find new ways to get to where we need to be.

Perhaps you face this Christmas with some apprehension and, this year, you feel like the light has gone out of your life. Nothing seems quite right and you wonder if you have the strength to go on.  But my friends, no matter how dark your situation, remember one thing: there is not enough darkness in the whole universe to hide the light of even one candle. Even when there is a flicker of hope, that spark overcomes the gloom. It may not banish it completely, but it is never all dark as long as there remains one glimmer of hope. Hope means “the expectation that good is yet to come.”

So light a candle in memory of your loved one, but also for yourself … to indicate that you believe there is hope for you to find your way through the darkness, even though life has taken an unwelcome turn and you are heading home in a different direction than the one you expected or even wanted.

So, this Christmas season:

  • Celebrate the person’s life as well as acknowledging their death.
  • Don’t allow looking back at the past to spoil what you have in the present.
  • Enjoy what you have, as well as grieving what you have lost.
  • Believe there are reasons to go on, even though you may not see what they are right now.
  • Believe in people and in life, in love and laughter and in hope!
  • Believe in yourself, that your determination will help get you through.
  • Believe that no matter how difficult your circumstances that life is important and can still be meaningful.
  • Believe in a brighter tomorrow and in possibilities beyond even your bravest dreams.

After Christmas, a New Year.  But what does it hold for you?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I just don’t have the willpower. Besides, the moment you ‘blow it’ (which is usually by January 2), you give up on your resolutions and slip back into more of the ‘same old, same old’ I prefer to set goals. Things I want to accomplish in the coming year. Goals are something you can keep working towards.

For you, maybe this past year has brought many changes. Sometimes after a loss, the way we see everything in our world changes. At times we may even regard ourselves differently. But we have to be careful.

The real problem is not the circumstances, but how we view these situations. Sometimes we need to check the glasses through which we look at our world. Are the “spectacles” through which you filter your view of things giving you an accurate picture? What’s your vision for next year; the goals you want to reach; the accomplishments you want to fulfil; the places you want to go?

But you may ask, how do I set goals for this new year in light of what has happened? Let’s see if we can make it easier.

One of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ is: begin with the goal in mind. Imagine where you want yourself to be one year from now in the various aspects and compartments of your life and then work back setting manageable objectives that will enable you to reach your desired goals.  Remember, I said ‘manageable’ 

Write these intentions down on paper. What would next year have to look like to make it ‘better’ for you?

What would you like your life to look like a year from now? What personal goals and ambitions would you like to reach?

What would you have to do to bring about that happy outcome? How about family? What would bring the people closer and make the next festive season one of thanksgiving?

Only you can determine the things you write down on that paper. But when you have done it, you have a vision. You have established goals and now you must set objectives by which, step by step, day by day throughout next year, you can build towards making that vision a reality.

I find my own goals are getting more personal and I like to think, more focused on what is really important in life.

My goal is to listen more.

My goal is to offer more random acts of kindness. More notes left on the counter for my wife, or frequent words of appreciation to people like checkout counter staff, or (and I mean no disrespect) the ‘little people’ in life who far too often are neglected, mistreated or unappreciated. It makes their day … and it also makes mine.

My goal is to laugh more. Let’s send more email cartoons, clever articles or jokes to each other. We all need a good laugh now and then.

I would like to take more chances and not play it ‘safe.’ I also want to travel lighter in life.

‘Someday’ and ‘one of these days’ are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing, hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. Why wait, when it may never happen if you do.

My goal is to show a cheerful disposition. Try to lift people’s spirits, or surround yourself with people who have a knack of doing that for you.

Whenever possible, make life a pattern of experiences to savour, not to endure.

Even though at my age I have more time to look back on than to look forward to in my life, I’m going to try to live next year as if it were my last, while doing everything I can to ensure that it isn’t. For people who take that attitude, the best is always yet to come.

As Peter Drucker puts it: “The best way to predict the future is to create it” So, believe in yourself and try to stay positive and if you do, you will have a better New Year. 

You can find more information and guidance on Grief and Bereavement by Dr Bill Webster at his helpful and informative website at: