Years ago I visited an ancient burial site in Dublin called New Grange. During the winter solstice the sun’s rays would go all of the way into the back of the burial site. I had walked all of the way to the back and sometimes had to crawl through the confining, underground space. It is amazing that only during the winter solstice, a time of year that brings the shortest days and the longest days of darkness, the sun’s rays can get to the end of the site.
During this time of the year there is also the festival of lights. Jewish people call this Hanukkah (Chanukah) and Christians call this Christmas. For Christians, Jesus came into the world darkened by sin, and he brought light. These two religious traditions exchange gifts during these feasts as a way to celebrate the gift of light. For people grieving the death of a loved one from suicide this season might be very painful because they might not see any reason to celebrate or be merry. The pain of grief has taken over their lives and spirits. The levity of the season can almost be offensive to these grieving people, and many would like it stricken from the calendar. It is not only that the days have less light but it almost seems that the days are completely darkened. The grief has completely overshadowed survivor’s lives, and it is at this time in the lives of survivors that they need to see if there is any light in their lives –even the smallest smidgen of light.
Other friends and family members can bring light into the lives of the grieving person. Even the smallest type of light can be a reason to celebrate the light of the season. It is not going to be easy but survivors have to find even the smallest light to brighten an already darkened life. The alternative is to isolate oneself from all of the merrymaking that accompanies the season. Sometimes the merrymaking can drive survivors further into their shells and this can magnify the loneliness that survivors often find during the season of light. It takes real effort to see some reason for the light. It is important for survivors that they let people know how painful it is to experience all of this merrymaking, when inside there is a broken spirit and a broken heart. Will all of the joy be taken away? Not all of it but certainly a great deal of joy has been diminished because of the death of a loved one from suicide. That is the direct result of grief.
Another way to bring some light into the life of a survivor is for the survivor to engage in some type of activity in which they are brought into contact with someone who is less fortunate. It could be to visit a homeless shelter or to visit a nursing home and spend some time with a resident who never gets any visitors. To do this is to bring a ray of sunshine into the life of a lonely person whose life is otherwise devoid of any human contact. When something like this is done the grieving person gets out of themselves and enters into the life of a needy person. The survivor brings some joy into the life of someone who rarely interacts with another human being. They wake up and eat a few meals and spend their time either watching television or reading the newspaper. Every day is the same. Such random acts of kindness force survivors to get out of themselves and enter into the life of someone whose life is very dreary and lonely. A visit from a survivor can bring a sparkle and a smile into the life of someone who feels as if no one cares if they are alive or dead.
Another example is to get together with other people who are grieving the loss of a loved one from suicide. It is not that “misery loves company” but it can help to be with other people who understand how painful the season is. There are key people absent and a great void has been created. People who feel the same way can be very supportive to other survivors. There can be laughter and enjoyment but in a subdued way and in an environment that is comfortable for the survivor. The light is there and it has not been extinguished. It has dimmed somewhat but it is still there to bring light to other people. That is the whole purpose of the season.
Survivors sometimes feel as if they have been abandoned during this season. It is a time when there is more socializing and more merrymaking and more gaiety. Sometimes survivors feel out of place in gatherings where there is an atmosphere of fun and merrymaking. Survivors are not in a mood for such banter and lighthearted conversation. Their hearts are broken and the farthest thing from their mind is to engage in light conversation. The light has been taken from their lives and people don’t understand the pain in the life of a survivor. There are times when survivors need to make an appearance at such gatherings, they really don’t want to, but they make the effort. It is perfectly acceptable to make a cameo appearance and then leave. People at these types of gatherings most likely will understand if survivors leave early. People can’t grasp the enormity of the pain that survivors experience and are of the opinion that such gatherings will distract the survivors and will provide a respite from the grief. Nothing can be further from the truth. While the light of the season has been diminished it has not been totally blown out but it can be aggravated by people who make burdensome demands and expectations on survivors.
There are other ways to celebrate the light in the lives of survivors. One example is to express gratitude to those people who have journeyed with survivors during the long journey of resolving the grief. Such people are real angels in the lives of the survivor. This holiday season can be an opportunity to get together with these people and let them know how appreciative one is for allowing the survivor to express the myriad of feelings that all survivors experience. Also for not trying to make things better by glossing over the pain that is so excruciating and seemingly endless. This support network is a real light in the life of the survivor. Let these people know that the light is burning brighter because they have allowed survivors to express the darkness in their souls, and they have allowed the survivor to express their true feelings with all of the ugliness that accompanies grief from suicide. What gifts these people are and what lights they have become to survivors who seem to be engulfed in darkness. The lives of survivors have been brightened by these angels.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis during my quiet time. I encourage each of you to do the same for each other –especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,