From Trigger to Touchstone

Posted on November 26, 2018

The holidays are often a painful reminder of a loved one’s absence. During what is often perceived as a time of tradition and nostalgia, those who are grieving feel overwhelmed and emotionally devastated.  Family time is tender and often difficult. As people gather and celebrate there is a vivid reminder that life is not the same. Holiday preparation requires more from us, when we are grieving, we don’t have the energy or desire to do what is expected. Everywhere we go -on the TV, radio, the mall, and city streets- the holidays are in your face.

For most people, the holidays are at least in theory, a happier time. We get together with family and friends, to visit and catch up on what been going on in each other’s life.   For those who are grieving, the holidays are perceived more as a “chore” and something we need to get through.

Last year during the holidays I heard a radio interview with the daughter of Frank Sinatra. The interviewer asked her what it was like hearing her father’s music in every mall during the holidays. She said at first, she couldn’t bear to hear his voice; it was too painful. However, as she acknowledged and accepted his death, she was able to find joy in hearing his voice, knowing that it brought so much comfort and joy to so many, including herself. As I heard that interview I thought about how what once was a trigger now has become a touchstone.

In a grief and the holiday workshop that I facilitated, a widow told her story about facing the first holiday without her husband.  She indicated that she didn’t have a desire to put up any decorations. Her adult children simply would not hear of it and stated, “it won’t be Christmas without a tree, as they begged her to put up the tree.

Recognizing their desire, she compromised and up went the tree. Soon another daughter and her 12-year-old son came to her home they asked, “Mom, when are you going to decorate the tree.” The widow responded directly and to the point, “I don’t feel like doing anything for Christmas this year.”

After a long pause, the 12-year-old grandson asked “Do you remember how grandpa liked to put up decorations? “I have an idea, why don’t we cover the tree with grandpa’s ties?” They all looked at each other and in the midst of smiles and tears, they realized that they could honor grandpa and their grief at the same time. Thus, what was a trigger had become a touchtone.

Richard Rohr, theologian and author writes, “pain that is not transformed is transmitted.” When we embrace our grief, and allow our pain to surface, we can experience healing and transformation. Remember what you resist, persists. When we let the feelings of grief flow through us and allow it to connect us with those who have gone before us, we actually can use the holidays as a time to heal.

Darwin L. Huartson, M.Div. BCC
Porter-Loring Mortuaries
San Antonio, TX


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