For those of you that we’ve served in the past, perhaps you know that we strive to create and provide experiences in order to celebrate life. Yesterday afternoon (12/16/18) we had the opportunity to help 250 guests who attended our annual Christmas Remembrance & Candle Lighting Service to remember and celebrate the lives of those they were there to honor. The quandary for many of those who attended is rooted in the mystery of grief which pits celebrating at odds with mourning.
After losing someone you love, grief can assume strange qualities that lead the person who is grieving down an exhaustingly uneven path – polarizing, terrifying and ambivalent – often all at the same time. Unfortunately, the holidays only serve to exacerbate the emotional vertigo that accompanies those mood swings.
To provide some useful insight, we were pleased that Andrea Raynor was available to officiate at our service. As many of you may already know, Andrea is actually Reverend Andrea Raynor, a United Methodist minister, and the Chaplain for the Rye, New York Fire Department. She also served as the chaplain at Ground Zero during the aftermath of 9-11. She is a cancer survivor and an author. One of her books is The Alphabet of Grief: Words to Help in Times of Sorrow. As you can see, she knows something about grief and the grieving.
During her Remembrance Message, Reverend Raynor discussed the complexities of grieving during the holidays and recounted the story of famed, but absent-minded Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who reportedly was riding a train one day when the railroad Conductor began checking tickets. As the Conductor approached, Justice Holmes checked all of his pockets and his briefcase and became agitated when he was unable to lay his hands on the ticket. Amused, the Conductor laughed and said, “I know who you are. Everyone knows who you are. There’s no need to show me your ticket.” Justice Holmes, still agitated replied, “You don’t understand, that’s not the problem. The problem is that I can’t remember where I’m going.”
Connecting the dots, Reverend Raynor said that just like Justice Holmes, those who are in the grasp of grief during the Holidays may not, quite literally, know where they’re going, let alone consider the implausible thought of “celebrating” the life of their loved one. Savage and debilitating, grief clouds the process of thinking, making it almost an unbearable task. Not wanting to cry, they’re also afraid to laugh. Not wanting to be by themselves, they want to be left alone. Confusion reigns.
How do we overcome and go on?
It’s not easy; it takes courage and it’s something that everyone has to find on their own. According to Raynor, you need to find peace in the fact that it’s okay to cry if you feel like crying. But, it’s also okay to laugh if you find a moment that is lighter or makes you happy. And in the long run, Raynor writes in the Alphabet of Grief, we need to find our why. Not the why – as in why did my loved one die; but, the why – as in why should I continue to live. Perhaps it’s in knowing that our loved one would want us to live. Or, to be there for our kids or grandkids. In any event, once you’ve found the why, you’ll once more begin remembering just where you’re going.
For more help with grief, I recommend picking up a copy of The Alphabet of Grief.