I’d like to cancel the holiday season, thankyouverymuch

I think that’s how alot of us feel. “ Just let’s not have it.” “I don’t have the energy.” “ I don’t want to.”

Maybe this year you’ve lost a member of your family. And now as the holiday season approaches, all you want to do is avoid the whole thing. Too many memories. Too much sadness. It just seems like too much.

This week Steckley Gooderham Funeral Homes sponsored a discussion about loss and about how difficult it is to set the table for five when you know there should be six people sitting down to dinner.

Called “I Can’t Face the Holidays,” they offered two sessions with John Kennedy Saynor of Genesis Bereavement Resources, one for clergy who would be ministering to bereaved, and an evening session for 160 people who had recently experienced a death in their families.

John Saynor is an Anglican priest, a funeral director and a grief counsellor and blends his working life into one healthy message when he discusses grief and major holidays. At the core of our grief rests the need to recognize our loved one, to mourn their “change of address” and to keep their spirit alive and well. And on top of this we often have other members of our family who are expecting things to go “as normal” as if nothing has happened.

But something has happened. And it will feel much better if you are able to recognize your loss and celebrate the life of your person who has died.

It feels disrespectful to change some of your holiday traditions and yet sometimes a change lets in new light, new energy. It feels wrong to have a good time, to laugh with friends as you tip eggnog into your cup because your loved one isn’t there. It’s hard to balance what your family and friends expect with what you personally want for yourself.

Holiday seasons, says John Saynor, bring renewed feelings of loneliness, anger, sadness, depression. Holiday seasons rekindle feelings we thought we already dealt with. And that’s okay.

The group attending Tuesday night’s session discussed a variety of ways to celebrate the holidays, embracing openly our losses and yet moving forward with a loving life.

Purchase and light a special candle to symbolize the spiritual presence of your loved one. Keep it with you and move it throughout your home… during decoration time, during wrapping time, during family meals and gift giving. It lets you talk about your loved one with a focus that’s more comfortable for everyone.

Discuss your family traditions and make decisions about which ones might change. Be sure everyone gets a chance to express themselves about the way your family celebrates the holidays. You may be surprised at the feelings others express. You might explore whether it’s important to carry on traditions or perhaps use this time to make changes.

There are many traditions to look at… old decorations, or new? day time meal, or evening? gift exchange in the morning, or another time? celebrations with friends, or not?

Rev. Saynor also suggested that we cut back on the “chores” around the season, share some of our pain with other family members who are hurting, and make time for ourselves.

Reaching out to someone less fortunate, by buying a gift, making a donation, and inviting someone to share your holiday celebration in memory of your loved one is a good way to move your sadness into happiness for someone else.

Reaching out to others to help with your feelings is a healthy way to move through the holidays. And, taking the focus off one day and spreading it across the season will remove some pressure.

The grief counsellor had words for children and holidays as well. Children are often hindered in their grieving process because they’re just plain left out. People often feel that by discussing their feelings with children, they’re actually magnifying everyone’s pain, and so feelings go unrecognized, unprocessed. This is especially true at a holiday season.

He suggested children should be included–and listened to–in any discussion around the entire holiday season. They should be asked what they want and what they don’t want. They should be allowed a break from the family, to spend part of the holi-day [spelling okay] with their friends. Get children’s ideas about an appropriate gift or donation in memory of a loved one. Encourage them to talk about the person who has died… they can light a candle, they can set a special ornament nearby, there are many activities that give them an opportunity to talk openly or mourn privately.

Tuesday evening’s session was full of wonderful encouragement for all of us who have lost significant people in our lives in the recent or distant past. And, with room for only 160 people, it’s only fitting that John Saynor’s message be available to others. You can visit his website at www.genesis-resources.com.