My father died last year on Dec. 16. My mother died seven years ago. At age 60, I have become an orphan.
Regardless of my parents’ ages or illnesses, their presence was an important part of my Christmas commitments. The religion of advertising has proclaimed the joy, happiness and merriment achieved in the acquisition and completion of gift getting.
I am not embracing these positive Advent adjectives as a bereaved person.
Beyond my personal path as a funeral director, I know there are many bereaved people who, at Christmas, feel isolated, dysfunctional and emotionally imprisoned.
When someone we love dies we begin a journey of grief. It may include feelings of shock, anger, sadness, relief, guilt and, eventually, a reaffirmation that the world keeps turning.
Christmas often manifests these feelings, even if the death happened years ago.
As the non-bereaved world debates the merits of a real or an artificial tree, bereaved people need to confront their feelings about Christmastime.
They need to realize the person who has died has left them the gift of memory. Every time we say their name, they are with us. Share their gift of memory of what they said, what they did, how they hugged, their favourite song, their favourite food, and they will be with you.
Bereaved people should keep a daily diary during Advent. The diary entry should begin “Today, I feel…,” so they can monitor their own good days and bad days.
Bereaved people need to tell others it’s okay to say the person’s name. Often, people who care about the bereaved are hesitant to say the deceased’s name for fear of upsetting the mourner.
It’s a name that is loved and the mourner is already upset — say the name, share the gift of memory.
Bereaved people should dedicate some personal time to themselves, even 15-20 minutes each day. Turn off the phone. Don’t read the texts. Don’t answer the door. Just have some “me” time to focus.
Bereaved people should volunteer to help someone else. Serve a meal at the Elgin Street Mission (705-673-2163), ring the bells for the Salvation Army (705-673-5893) or, if you can’t sleep, volunteer for Operation Red Nose (705-675-6673).
Bereaved people should create their own 12 cups of coffee at Christmas. At the funeral, everyone said you should call me. So do it.
Call 12 family members or friends for a coffee and then receive the gift of hearing a story about your loved one. Bereaved people should visit where the casket or cremains are buried or scattered.
They need to bring a card, a favourite cookie, a tangible token of the gift that keeps on giving – love. Bereaved people should give hugs as Christmas presents to thank those whose presence has helped them in their bereavement.
I’ll miss my mom and dad this Christmas. The light of their love will guide me not to a merry Christmas, but a meaningful one.
Gerry M. Lougheed Jr. is a Sudbury funeral director and chair of the Bereavement Foundation.