It’s the week before the first major holidays of the season and some of us may be preparing to host and entertain, or simply be a guest. Whatever our role, likely most of us are in some way – either consciously or subliminally - bracing for some intensely emotional occasions because inevitably grief will be part of our gathering with friends and family.
As celebration surrounds us, the pain of our loss is easily magnified by the holidays and the absence of one we love. Even if those who come together are grieving the same loved one, the fact is that no one’s experience of grief and loss is the same as yours. Yet somehow we often expect others to know and understand exactly what it is we’re feeling and experiencing, especially at the holidays.
If the family has lost its matriarch or patriarch, each child is grieving differently. By the same token, no one’s grief is the same as that of the surviving spouse – for better or worse. If an entire family is grieving the loss of a beloved child, there may be many shared moments of utter heartbreak. For every loss there is a very personal grief...
When we’re confronted with an idealized picture of what a family gathering looks like, or “should” look like – through modern sales media or in the paintings of Norman Rockwell, for example – we’re easily convinced that anything less than perfection is somehow “wrong”. What we find in real life though, is that each family – whether biological or chosen - has its own complications and dynamic. In many families it’s the dysfunction, addictions, and step-everyones that make the holidays at best a challenge, with or without the extra dimension of grief.
One of the things we easily underestimate is that our emotions and feelings are acutely sensitized at the holidays. All the small resentments, hurt, and anger we’ve so carefully put aside or stuffed down somewhere deep inside us may come bubbling up to the surface. When these well-concealed emotions spill over in unexpected outbursts, they express nothing more and nothing less than the pain we’re feeling because of the loss of one we love. And this is where forgiveness comes to the fore of our agenda for surviving the holidays.
In the next days and weeks likely we’ll encounter someone who’s neglected us, someone who was a conspicuous “no-show” at the time of our loss, a relative who couldn’t “handle it”, or someone who said a thoughtless word we’ll forever associate with the death of our loved one. We may be thrown together with others who’ve chosen simply to ignore our pain and act like nothing happened. They’re generally the clueless ones who’ve not yet experienced the death of a loved one in their own lives.
Our pain and sorrow may still be too new and raw to meet these “others” where they are with our unconditional forgiveness. What we can do that gets us pretty close to forgiveness is to simply let it all go. We can reframe our encounter with those who’ve been thoughtless or inconsiderate in the worst of our grief to include only the present moment. We may have to work at it because our heart sometimes holds on rather tenaciously to perceived wrongs. Yet when we forgive we ease the wounds inflicted by the past and exchange our agitation and pain for the quietude of peace.
We always prevail when we forgive. This act of human grace calms our soul and reminds us of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness to us, especially as we grieve at the holidays.What we experience is that forgiveness is the better part of love. It honors the memory of the one we hold dear and now grieve and moves us toward reconciliation and joy. Forgive...and live forward.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Luke 6:37 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the love of your forgiveness. Amen.