April in Paris. Chestnuts in blossom. April showers bring May flowers.
Since I was a child Easter has always been a special time for me – a time of resurrection and renewal. I enjoyed the straw filled baskets, Easter egg hunts, frilly dresses with matching hats and black patent shoes. Boys looked so proud in ties and jackets dressed for church.
Then one sudden tragic event would change my perception of the holiday. It was 1983. Easter was early that year, on April 2nd. We had taken our annual trip to Washington D.C. Scott, my son, and his cousin Matthew had gone to dinner and a movie at Tyson’s Corner Mall. Matthew was driving in a heavy rainstorm when he lost control of the car and it hydroplaned, hitting a retaining wall, bursting into flames and killing both boys. The boys were pronounced dead at the scene one minute before Easter.
To say I lost faith, would be putting it mildly. I wasn’t interested in a resurrection. I wanted my son back and I wanted him back now. I turned to religious leaders for comfort and help, but they really said nothing that could explain why two terrific kids, minding their own business would have to die. Where was God anyway? I thought he knew every little bird that fell. Was this all a myth; some kind of hoax? Would I ever recover? Spring was not welcome that next year and for several years thereafter. The memories were too painful. How did I find faith again? I screamed and yelled and asked how God could bring this into my life. The people in my church showed love and care. However, I felt God had deserted me. Looking back I realize the reverse was true and that I had deserted God and that God was always there waiting for me, represented though the many acts of kindness by those around me.
As one religious leader told me when I expressed my frustration and anger, “God can take it”.
Over the years I have come to believe that there is a special purpose and mission for all of our lives, and that each experience is a part of our unique spiritual journey regardless of our personal religious beliefs. As I visit my garden this spring with the emerging tulips, crocuses and forsythia I feel my connection with God, and I again look forward to Easter.
The following are some tips that over the years have helped me negotiate the holidays.
Holiday Self Help Tips:
• Avoid irritations including, arguments, long lines and crowds.
• Take Mini breaks.
• Drive your car slowly, less frequently and in a more relaxed way.
• Get your daily quota of laughs and hugs.
• Call on your personal support system – a close friend or a spiritual leader can be a lifesaver.
• Enjoy the simple things: sunsets, flowers and quiet.
• Plan a Healing Holiday Ritual.
Healing Holiday Rituals:
• Plant a Living Memorial
Spring is a wonderful time for this ritual. Invite friends and family to write a memory piece or poem to the loved one who has died. The note may be as simple as “I love you” or “I miss you” or “I didn’t get a chance to tell you good-by, so I am telling you now.” Purchase a tree a plant or a rose bush. Have everyone read their piece and then burn the papers and mix the ashes with soil. Plant the rose bush or tree as a living memorial
• Create a Memory Collage
A Memory collage can be as simple as getting a bunch of old magazines and cutting out pictures that remind you of the loved one who has died. Paste the pictures on construction paper or poster board. Don’t put too much thought into the process and you will be surprised with what you will find. Do it in a group and share the memories.
• Create a Memorial Graffiti Wall
The wall can be as simple as tapping a long run of butcher paper across a wall and letting everyone express their creative expressions around grief and loss. I recommend that you use an exterior fence or wall if you are using spray paint. Kids love it.
• Create a Memory Table
Ask people who visit for the holiday to bring something that reminds them of the loved one who has died. It might be as simple as a pack of Lifesavers. Set up a table by the front door with a picture of the deceased where the items can be placed.
• Take a Memory Walk
In this walk family members and friends take turns walking for 10 minutes in pairs. The only talk is focused on positive memories of the deceased.
• Pot Luck Memory Dinner
Guests are invited to bring a dish that reminds them of their deceased family member. Not planning is the key to making this event fun and exciting. Don’t expect a balanced meal. You can always call for Chinese take-out later.
• Break a Jar
Buy a large terracotta jar at the garden store. Carefully break the jar into fairly large pieces. Have participants draw or write something they received from the deceased on the exterior of the shards. When this is done glue the jar back together signifying that although the vessel no longer contains the spirit the influence for good goes on.
Renewing Your Faith
Some of you may want to use this spring and holiday season as an opportunity to renew your faith. If you are one who celebrates Easter or Passover you might consider attending services at the church or synagogue of your childhood or try a new setting.
One person in God’s service in the Christian tradition is Reverend Dennis Apple whose son died of a massive infection. He has gone on to help thousands of people in many faiths to deal with their losses. The following questions and answers are from our 2011 Webinar with Reverend Apple (available on Open to Hope Webinar With Dennis Apple, Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley):
1. What should I do if being in a faith-based setting makes me uncomfortable because I feel people are feeling sorry for me?
Reverend Apple: Try going to a service or go late and leave early.
2. What if I am angry with God?
Reverend Apple: Be patient with yourself and realize that God is too.
3. What if the funeral of the person I lost was in the building where I attend services and I am afraid to go back?
Reverend Apple: Try going when the building is vacant and sit quietly for a few minutes. Two or three times should desensitize you to the sad feelings.
4. How can I face the empty chair at the family dinner table?
• Acknowledge them by setting a place at the table.
• Honor them by giving a toast.
• Change tradition by going to a restaurant with friends or family members.
5. The holidays are so difficult I dread them. Any suggestions?
• Reverend Apple: Remember holidays are only one day. Anticipation of the event is often worse than the event.
If you want to know more about Reverend Apple listen to Open to Hope Radio with guest Dennis Apple or access the entire Easter Webinar. Both are available at: https://www.opentohope.com/?s=Dennis+apple
Please let me know how your faith has been impacted by loss and your thoughts on getting through the holidays. Also, please link to this blog on your website and social media and hope those who have suffered loss get through the holidays. Remember god work is done through people like you and me.
Dr. Gloria Horsley 2012