Shepherding the Bereft
by Christy Lowry
How often when we see a loss overwhelming those we love, do we wonder how we can help them, especially around the holidays? Asking myself this question immediately takes me back to our family’s own challenging first year when we lost our daughter in a sudden auto-pedestrian accident. Our painful months of adjustment, especially those first -time holidays without her, permanently engraved upon me the desire to pass on the torch of our hopeful experience to others. What kernels of accumulated experience and God-given wisdom have we found worth passing on?
First, letting people know how natural it is to fear post-loss holidays can be immensely reassuring. At first, we figured that if only we could completely avoid those intimidating memory-laden days we’d avoid more pain. Instead, surprise! We discovered that allowing ourselves to re-experience them gradually softens the pain by overlaying old memories, traditions, and customs with fresher, newer ones. How can that be? Our family began and helped this process along by temporarily modifying old customs and traditions. We ate out at Thanksgiving instead of fixing the feast at home. Others have eaten at a new restaurant versus the one they traditionally went to in years past.
If Christmas’s arrival is imminent, order gifts by catalog, leaving the wrapping and delivery up to the catalog company. If there’s ample time, shop before the frenzied Christmas atmosphere revs up, defusing the nostalgia before it gets a paralyzing grip on you.
Accepting help from our “sibling bridges” gave us a big boost. If you have siblings, they likely share common generational interests and memories, are also facing issues common to your shared age group. Opening up to those who you get along well with and trust (ditto for good friends!), gives them the chance to help you. My husband’s sister also lost a child; we found her pre-Christmas letter describing her experience, and what helped her, an invaluable reference point.
Being available to other grievers for home visits in their homes or yours—mutually sharing each other’s stories, drawing upon, and equipping yourselves with healing tools, incredibly comforts and encourages others, albeit differently, based on where you are in your grief process. Those experienced “seasoned” grievers who came to our home were one strong resource who gave us emotional stability and continuity by reassuring us that our glazed reactions and daunting insecurities were completely normal. And their sharing their own personal experiences so we could see their “before and after” lives filled us with hope that one day we’d be restored too. In our case, these fellow bereft were also Christians, giving us something else we had in common: shared faith, rooted in comfort and hope promised by The One who overcame death.
In time, we were able to reach out beyond ourselves to help others. This intentional effort strengthened and anchored us, showing us in yet another way where we’d been and how far we could go, with God’s guiding hand. For example, our neighborhood long had a traditional progressive dinner celebrating both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Despite our sadness we participated in it that year as usual, which kept us from becoming isolated. Being out with other people also lightened our pain, bringing us to the point where we could mentor and pass on comfort to others–most immediately to people we hadn’t spoken with since the tragedy.
Summing up: Being aware of, and staying in touch with, those going through loss—especially during the holidays–helps them feel connected to others and life itself. We have a prime-time opportunity to mentor God’s very real comfort and hope by passing on those tools taught us by life’s experience, thereby shepherding the bereft through their journey to healing.
About the Author
Christy Lowry received her AA from El Camino Jr. College, Lawndale, and a BA in History, with an English minor, from Cal State University at Long Beach, CA. Her writing career officially launched with her first published book, PAM (Publication Consultants), named after her eighth-grade daughter who died in a sudden auto-pedestrian accident in 1983. Christy and her husband, Paul, retired to Boise, ID after 28 years in Anchorage, AK, to be closer to their two surviving sons and their families. She currently writes inspirational poetry that has been used at various events, and is also writing a series on geckos for young children.