Monday, November 15, 2010

Loss, Absence, And The Holidays

My sister-in-law lost her mother early this morning. She was a sweet little woman (I am not being pejorative, she was very small), who lived with my brother and sister-in-law. The three of them visited not too long ago. This was sudden. Debbie's mother fell Friday night, the ambulance rushed her to the hospital, and by early Monday morning, she was gone. It is still hard to believe.

My sister-in-law is a total sweetie. Ever since my mom's stroke last year, she went to see Mom every single day (unless they were out of town, which was rare). She did Mom's laundry for her, too, even though the facility would have done it (they didn't do it soon enough to suit Debbie). And, after we lost Mom in January, Debbie helped plan the memorial service, gathering photos and written remembrances, making a beautiful triptych for display after the service. Honestly, we couldn't do it without her.

We were already bracing ourselves for the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without Mom. While these are holidays we love to celebrate, this year was going to be different, hard, and painful without my mom. To say I miss her is a vast understatement. I still think of her every day.

But now Debbie and her family are faced with the same dilemma. Thanksgiving is so close, Christmas so soon afterward. The grief, the disbelief at how quickly her mom was taken still in the forefront. It is too soon, too soon to celebrate the shortest day as the earth makes its turn back toward the light.

Of course, we are not alone. Others are dealing with the loss of a parent, a sibling, a child. People too soon taken from our lives through illness, accident, or war, whether a stray bullet from a gang member's gun at home, or an IED in one of the wars we are fighting abroad. My heart just breaks for those dealing with such a loss.

And this upcoming holiday season is hard on those who have fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, all stripe of family member serving in the military, deployed to far off lands, far from their families and loved ones. How hard is it for young children to not have one of their parents at home with them over this holiday season, though their homes are filled with love and the smells of the season. Somehow, it is just not the same. (If you are able ans so inclined, faithful reader Janie alerted me to this site, Any Soldier, which provides names of active military to whom one can send packages, letting you know what kinds of things they might need. Now would be a good time to consider such a gift.)

The upcoming holiday season can also be difficult for those who have little or no family, or family from whom they are estranged. A "happy" Thanksgiving, or a "Merry" Christmas, Happy Chanukah, or Solstice is not in the cards for them. Too many people feel alienated at this time of year, too stressed, too sad, some even taking their own lives out of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking loneliness.

All of that is to say, while the holidays upcoming can be, and I hope for many, joyous occasions, they may also be a source of pain and grief to others. And so, I would ask that perhaps we can treat each other with a little more kindness, maybe bite our tongues when a snarky response is about to escape our lips to the person standing in the middle of the grocery store aisle, not moving, or taking too long getting out of a parking lot space. For all we know, something may have just hit them, a memory of their beloved gone, or seeing a present they know their mom would have loved, and remembering - again - that she was no longer there to receive it.

A little kindness, a little grace, a "pay it forward" act of good will this holiday season may go a long way to ease someone's burden, their grief, their pain. We are all in this together, after all, and if we treat one another with loving kindness, not just in this season, but year-round, no telling the difference it could make.

In the meantime, for my sister-in-law and her family, words do not suffice to address the grief and sorrow they are feeling. For them, and for everyone who is in pain and sorrow, I offer you the following, and hope that it will be a balm to your soul:

And, since Debbie's mother was Roman Catholic, this is for her. She will be missed:

May she rest in peace...


SFIndie said...

Rev, I am SO sorry to hear about the loss of your sister-in-law's mom. My condolences to your entire family.

Thank you for the reminder to be a little kinder during the holidays. In all honesty, I never stopped to consider that the person not moving along as fast I want them to may have suddenly become overwhelmed with a memory that literally stopped them in their tracks!

For some reason, I was compelled yesterday to re-watch the videos of returning Iraq vets surprising their children. Tears pouring down my face, I thought how sad that so many families will be separated by war again this year.

You're right, the holidays are NOT joyful for many people. May we each do what we can to brighten the upcoming days for everyone we meet.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Thanks, SF - it was very sudden. My sister-in-law is taking it pretty hard, poor thing. They'll be taking her mom back home to where she grew up for the funeral. Such a difficult time it is...

And thank you - I am glad you found this post meaningful. You and I both know how those minds of memories of our mothers can just pop up at the drop of a hat. I still find myself checking the answering machine sometimes to see if Mom has called...

That was a very compelling video abt the returning soldiers. Can you just imagine what it must have been like for those kids/families to have that kind of surprise? Wow, it is just breath-taking...

A friend of mine said one time that we just never know when we engage with someone if a house just fell on their sister (you know, from the "Wizard of Oz"), which might explain why they were acting the way they did. Good advice, really. We don't know when someone has just had a life-altering incident, so best to just act like one did, right?

And amen, sister - words to live by...