Holidays: the Best and Worst Season of the Year

The season of the empty chair . . .

The season of the empty chair . . .

When a writer writes, a question that accompanies every effort is: who is your audience?

With this being the time of Thanksgiving (and the unofficial plunge into the other end-of-the-year holidays), I write for one person.

She hurts: in her bones, in her heart, in her soul. She would like to vanish right now, and reappear sometime in January after the interminable holidays are finished. He hates the thought of “celebrating.” There’s nothing he’s grateful for, and spending a day sharing a table with friends and family for “thanks” and “giving” seems a cruel joke.

After all, the wonderful person I am writing to is ill. But she doesn’t have a cold or the flu. She’s ill with a life limiting disease. Ill as in now or soon she will enter into hospice care.

After all, the overwhelmed person I am writing to is a caregiver. This time, for him, the giving of care will be far more than providing chicken noodle soup or hot tea. His loved one is dying.

After all, the precious person I am writing to—and there are so many in this season—is grieving. Every day has a dose of pain. Holidays increase those “doses” to unbearable levels.

How can we celebrate a holiday when facing death?

How can we celebrate a holiday when grieving?

How can we celebrate in the season of the empty chair?

I don’t have an answer to those questions. Sometimes we can “compartmentalize” our feelings. Yes, you may be desperately in love for the first time, or your baby is born, or you’re about to start your dream job, and that joyful circumstance dominates every thought! But, with all of your giddiness, you can still accomplish a few things. You’re good at juggling tasks and balancing demands!

But not now. Not with dying. Not with grief.

This I encourage for those entering into the holiday season knowing that they are dying: take every moment you can with the people who matter most to you. Never hesitate to say “No” to events or individuals that don’t fill you with life and love. Never hesitate to say “Yes” to every situation that provides life and love. Your quality of life is #1. In the best sense of what it means, be selfish with your time, choices, and companions.

This I encourage for those entering into the holiday season burdened with grief: what I wrote in the above paragraph is also what I’d say to you. But I’ll repeat this . . . be selfish with your time, choices, and companions. If you need alone time, take it. If you’re hesitant to join with a family gathering (or other difficult activities), but feel like you “should try,” then try. But also feel okay about walking away. You are wounded and healing. If others don’t understand or respect that, seek to be with those that do.

Holidays are hard.

I have no magic to make them easier, but I hope there’s “one person” who is helped by these words.

How you celebrate—and don’t celebrate—the holidays this year doesn’t mean your decisions (or lack of decisions) are “permanent” for you or your loved ones. Significant grief does ebb, does become more bearable, and you will be able to make different choices next year . . . and the next year. I believe your love for the person you grieve will be as strong as ever. And I believe you will become stronger as you continue to heal with each new day.

With humility and gentleness, I wish you, “Happy Holidays.”

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    • No, I don’t. But, when serving as a pastor at several churches, we did a Blue Christmas. As I recall, not many came. But those attending expressed deep appreciation for the opportunity to grieve and to celebrate the season.

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