Christmas: Loneliness, Connectedness — and Thanks

JimTC - WP 2

We hear a lot about people being alone at this time of year — or bereaved. I have read that Christmas is the number one time of year for suicides.

Most of my friends know that I am an adult “orphan.” I joined this club in 1993, the year Dad passed. Mom had already preceded him in 1991, shortly before Thanksgiving.

Family Recollections

I think of both of my parents every day.

Mom was definitely one of the best ladies I ever knew. Now, this doesn’t mean she agreed with every stand I took — or that she always let me have my way. Definitely not. If she had, something would have been seriously amiss. Yet, once I got past my brash junior high school stage, we were good buddies.

Dad was a caring, responsible man who wanted to be sure his kids landed right side up. I wish I could write down all the good advice he passed along to me during my growing-up years. I will recall here one piece of advice from him that I’ve since passed along to others: “Don’t make an important decision when you’re in one of your highs or lows. Wait till things settle down.”

Grieving and Recovering

In the throes of fresh grief, I found that making an effort to do just one thing for one other person got me out of myself and helped me feel better. Check out this directive from Hebrews 13:16:

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

After Mom passed, I had a trusted fellow-believer pray with me for part of each day — for a little over a week. This helped me feel still stronger. Now I could go on with my life.

Don’t Stop Functioning

Something else that helped: I recalled what Mom had told me when I was 14 years old, grieving over the passing of a loved family friend. We knew her as Grandma Nielsen — although she was not a relative. Mom said, “No one would be more distressed to see you this way than Grandma Nielsen herself.”

This roused me. And the lesson has stuck with me. I take to heart St. Paul’s words in 1. Thessalonians 4:1-2:

We do not wish you to remain in ignorance, Brothers, with regard to those who have passed to their rest, that your grief may not be like that of others, who have no hope. For, as we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring, with Jesus, those who through him have passed to their rest.

So this doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. But the grief is not without hope. And tears do serve a useful purpose. They help to flush out the toxins that build up in the system during emotional stress. Then we feel better.

In order for people to know what I was going through right after Mom passed, they would have had to be right in the room with me — and looking straight at me. In my book, grief is a personal matter — not something for public display.

The Second Stage

Three weeks after Mom passed, I went back to my hometown to spend a week with Dad. I told him how I’d gotten through the initial bereavement well — in about 10 days. Now I next faced a second stage of adjustment. I told him, “But now it’s going to be maybe 40 years or more before I get to see Mom again.”

Then these thoughts came to me: “All right. What about today? Today was a very good day. So let’s just take this one day at a time. After all, when you do get to see her again, she’s going to want to know — as any good mother would — what you’ve been up to. So you’d better keep busy with the right stuff so you’ll have something good to tell her.” This unexpected, unsought bit of humor helped me pull myself up still more.

Alone but Not Lonely: Closing Thoughts

Today, even with no family within 1,000+ miles, I don’t feel alone. I believe in God and His Son, Jesus — “the reason for the season” — although I don’t say that you must do likewise, if you prefer not to.

Yet, because I do believe in God, I have to believe it is He who has sent me the individuals I needed — when I needed them: fellow-believers, musical friends, fitness friends. That’s just a start. I give Him thanks for every little hint of His care in such matters.

So I don’t feel rushed anymore to get to heaven to see my departed loved ones — delighted though I will be to see them when it’s my time. There are people here on Earth who need me — and I need them. I am more willing these days to give all this over to God, convinced that His time is best.

Now, if anyone needs encouragement or reassurance that the dark shadow will pass, the sunlight will come back, your appetite will revive, and you will once again crack up over funny things — take it from me. This will happen. I’ve been down this road.

Translation of Heb. 13:16 is from the Revised Standard Version. Translation of 1. Thess. 4:1-2 is from The Twentieth Century New Testament.

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