Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb Wilson, Hawkeye Nature Photography
By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. —Psalm 137:1-2
The word holiday comes from the Old English haligdoeg, meaning holy day. Holy days are special times when normal, or profane, time is suspended in order to observe sacred time. In our culture, of course, there isn’t much that is holy about holidays. For many of us they are simply days to stay home from work and an excuse to overindulge. Some of us try very hard to observe the “true meaning” of whatever holiday is being considered by preparing special foods, buying gifts, decorating the house, going to church. At the very least holidays give us a break from our typical routines.
But when we are grieving we do not get a break from heartache. In fact, days when other people are celebrating and spirits are high may be the worst days of all for us. How can we endure Dad’s empty chair at the dining room table on Thanksgiving? How can we live through seeing happy couples on Valentine’s Day when we are no longer part of a couple? How can a riotous New Year’s party be anything but an affront when our hearts are bruised and lonely?
Holidays, along with birthdays and anniversaries—of your mother’s death, your cancer surgery, your wedding or divorce—are the danger zones of grieving. Knowing this ahead of time can keep you from being blindsided by a grief attack while everyone else is drinking eggnog and opening presents. The psalmist, exiled in Babylon, refused to sing to his captors; likewise grievers have a right to refuse the forced merriment of holidays.
There are things we can do to get through these hard days. Trying something new can help. Changing tired traditions that don’t work anymore can make us feel more in control of how the day goes. If you don’t feel creative or don’t have the energy to make plans at all, at least allow yourself to hang up your harp. For this year anyway. Give yourself the gift of walking gently through the day.
O God, help me to keep this day holy by honoring my own heart. Amen.