QUESTION: Two weeks ago, we lost our 34-year-old son to a work-related accident in another state. He left his wife and two young sons, ages 3 and 5. Christmas was one of his favorite holidays.
Our question is how does a family get through what is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration when our hearts are heavy with loss?
~ Sad Family
Dear Sad Family,
I offer my sincere condolences for the loss of your son. Dealing with the death of our loved ones is one of the most difficult experiences of life. An unexpected tragedy such as this, especially during the holidays, can compound our sorrow because there is no way to prepare ourselves for sudden loss. The only way to cope with the sadness that you are feeling is with faith.
When any of us are faced with a tragedy, life requires that we stay true and focused on our path that is rooted in a Divine Presence that gently guides us towards our best and highest good. Refuse to be despondent. There is a difference between having an emotion and an emotion having us. The latter is when we get caught up in what we are feeling to the exclusion of all the good that is around us. That does not mean do not experience the sorrow but, as strange as it sounds, be open to what that sorrow has to teach you – to be gentle with yourself, to appreciate all the good in your life and, most importantly, to trust that though your son is no longer on this earth, he is most definitely alive in all of your memories that are filled with a love that does not end.
If your son were here right now, he would want you and all of his family to enjoy the holidays and to get on with your lives in the most wonderful of ways. He would want all the joy and laughter that you shared together to be at the center of your celebrations and your memories to be the foundation from which you continue to build your family. We cannot afford to allow a sense of sorrow extinguish the light that we have come here to be. If you can allow the sadness you feel to strengthen you by becoming more compassionate, understanding and loving to those around you, there will come a day when the sting of the loss will lessen and will be replaced with an understanding of the permanency of love and eternality of life.
I wish you a most blessed holiday season today and beyond.
Dear Sad Family,
I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to each of you in this time of deep grief and sadness. Your question touches everyone who has gone through this kind of tragedy. How does anyone get through any loss of this kind, especially when there is joy and celebration all around? Words seem meaningless. Any action taken often feels hollow and empty.
What I know is that you must allow the grief in. It is real. Listen to one another and share your feelings. This is a time to come together in your common loss. Each of you has memories and stories that need to be told.
In those shared experiences you have an opportunity to recreate the son, husband and father that you hold dear. He is still alive in your hearts and minds. If you have a church affiliation, talk to your priest, minister or rabbi.
If the pain is too great you might want to see a grief counselor who can help you move through the feelings and confusion that this brings.
And, when you can, remember this was one of his favorite holidays. What would he have you do? How would he want you to respond? How can you help each other move through this holiday with some grace and ease? What can you do for the grandchildren who have also lost their father?
Death remains the great mystery of life. What are left are the memories of a life that has touched us in some important way. It is up to us to find the meaning and comfort that this life has brought us and hold it dear. We celebrate that life by how we bring it forward in our own lives.
QUESTION: My family and I just returned from a Thanksgiving gathering. Both my husband I are frustrated with the lack of interaction and conversation because it seems almost everyone had their faces in their cellphones. When we arrived, we had our teenage twins put theirs away and asked them to greet their aunts, uncles and cousins and catch up on family news, so we think we were doing our part.
What is the obsession with cellphones and what makes people think that texting and cellphone conversations are more important than family?
~ Staying Home Next Year
Dear Staying Home Next Year:
Simply put: it is our culture. I agree with you that people and visiting face to face is much more important than having your face buried in technology. But just as our only means of visiting used to be in person before the invention of the telephone, and then we adapted to that, so have humans progressed to this new stage of communication. And it is interfering when we are in each other’s company physically.
You are right, you did your part. You did the right thing in my opinion. Short of taking over and “parenting” everyone (which you could or could not do), you might drop a subtle and inoffensive hint. An example could be, “Megan, I have missed you and would love to catch up, would you mind putting your phone down for a few minutes and tell me how school is going?” Clear, assertive, polite communication is the way to go here. And you may just model it for the younger generation.
The Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian,
Dear Staying Home Next Year,
Your frustration with what happened at your recent family gathering is certainly understandable, especially if you were anticipating a meaningful time together. My wife and I have experienced similar frustration with family connections.
Not many years ago, only a small percentage of people had cellphones. In today’s world, only a few do not. For some users, especially the younger generation, there is an absolute fascination with all that their cellphone can do. Their actions and behaviors may look and feel like an obsession.
Cellphone ownership and usage is definitely a generational issue. For teens and most adults under age 50, cellphone texting, Internet, apps, etc. have become a way of life. For this millennial generation, texting has become their primary means of communication and relationship, although it may not seem like “relationship” to you. Older generations may not have the same fascination, but according to research, our dependence is also becoming greater.
Needless to say, we live in a rapidly changing world. A major challenge is not losing the value of family, friendships, and having meaningful connection with them. Instilling this in our children is vital. I commend you for the “life lesson guidance” you gave your twins.
So where do you go from here? Jesus taught us the importance of forgiveness. Not forgiving leads to bitterness of heart. May I encourage you … don’t let yourselves be trapped there. You can choose to forgive and release your family from any resentment on your part. Choosing to forgive will free you to have open communication with family members and share your disappointment over the recent lack of meaningful connection, and do it without being accusative and creating defensiveness on their part. How you share your heart is very important.
In your conversations with them, you might suggest possibly designating some “cellphone free times,” such as at the dinner table, while playing games, or other specific activities. Here at our house, we’ve established dinnertime as “cellphone” free. When we’re engaged in playing games, there’s much less focus on cellphones.
My prayer is for God’s love and grace to pour down into each of your hearts in these coming days. May He enable you to reconsider “staying home next year.”
YMCA Chaplain Services