Sure, we love a good BBQ and picnic to kick off the summer as much as anyone else, but in our work we’ve been deeply affected by the stories of the veterans in our community. We’re proud and humbled to host this annual Community Memorial Picnic in their collective honor, and we love seeing generations come together to share stories and recognize those among us who served our country so faithfully.
Every year we'll purchase an ornament for our grief tree for people that we lost who are important to us. As we add new ornaments to our grief tree, we'll have a tangible way to see how many years we'll live through this grief. Grief is part of who we are and what we own now, and that grief tree is a symbolic of who we are now.
This, and 4 other ways to include remembering loved ones as part of your Christmas traditions.
“Merry Christmas!” “Happy New Year!”
Wherever you turn at this time of year, you encounter words of good cheer and reminders to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season. But those who are facing the first Christmas season following the loss of someone special in their lives may be wondering how they are going to simply survive the holidays, let alone find joy in them. So we asked several people we've served who all have experienced first holidays following a loss what advice they would give to those facing their own first Christmas. In their own words ...
“When someone’s that old you expect that death is coming someday, and you kind of dread it. It’s always there in the back of your mind. I was always trying to prepare myself that it would happen. It wasn’t tragic. But it was just such a shock,” explains Wendy. “A loss is a loss. You expect it but you don’t.”
They all have different needs. And meeting them all, while grieving myself, was hard sometimes. It was hard to be strong enough for me, let alone for them. But I was their mom and it was important to me to be there for them because they’re my kids and I hurt so deeply for them. I would have done anything to shield them from that loss, but since I couldn’t do that, I did the best I could to support them.
I realized early on that people grieve very differently. One woman at a group said I grieved hard for two months but then I was done. For me, I was still struggling four years later with trying to let go and move on with my life. Everybody’s different. That group helped me feel normal, though, and that what I was experiencing was normal.
Everyone has their own normal and nothing is right or wrong. Grief is a personal thing. Some people clear out the closet the next week and are done; others hold onto things for years and years and years. Everyone’s different and everyone needs to figure out what is best for them. Letting yourself grieve is healthy and necessary and that looks different for everyone.
My husband Gary died at the age of 57 on March 27, 2011. He was a beloved husband, father of 4 (plus spouses), grandfather to 3 (at the time). Gary had had lung cancer for 18 months. The morning he passed away my daughters and granddaughter were there and we could tell it was almost time. We’d been listening to music, and sometime between the songs “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” and “Word of God Speak” he breathed his last and entered the arms of Jesus.
We held his hands and told him we loved him.
It was completely peaceful. Fittingly, the song that came on right after he passed was a gospel song titled Singing Heaven’s Song.
Gary loved life. He owned his own concrete business and he was a hard worker. One of his big longings he had said to the doctor was, “All I want to do is see my grandkids grow up and pour concrete.” He just wanted to live his life!
Gary loved playing basketball at West Side Christian School on Saturday mornings with a group of guys, and one of the other guys even accidentally ended up with a black eye one time. They were both competitive! Gary also loved to golf.
He also loved helping other people and he would literally give people the shirt off his back. I remember one time that he bought someone a car for $300, and he never got paid back for that, and it wasn’t an issue for him because he just wanted to help out. For years, he served as a mentor to students at Covell School. He was a popular mentor and every kid in the class knew who he was there for, but he also greeted all the kids and was a friend to them all. He was such an encouragement to staff members, asking them about their lives and praying for them and their families.
Early on in our marriage he helped at Gold Avenue chapel, a small church on the west side of Grand Rapids. He used to drive a school bus, picking up kids for Sunday school and then worship there in the mornings. He had such a heart for the kids and people there. He had such heart for service to other people and service to our church and community.
He loved his grandkids – at the time he died he had three of them. He just enjoyed being with them. I remember him getting a teeny golf club for our 4-year old (at the time) granddaughter and trying to teach her how to swing that!
I wrote on his Carepage these words: “I will be honest to say this is heartbreaking to lose our beloved husband, father, and grandfather – we are grieving, crying deep sobs at times, knowing that our lives are less without him here on earth – that just doesn’t even put it into words. And not just us, but also you who grieve a beloved son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend, and all that he is to so many who adored him and respected him and were honored and blessed to have known him in some way.”
Part 1 of 7. See below for more of Joanne's story.
What about you? How did your grief journey begin, and what treasured memories of your loved one do you hold onto?
Something that we encourage families to consider is whether a graveside ceremony or service could be included in the memorial planning. Families who’ve included this element have found value in it, and here’s some of the reasons why:
1. Taking the Final Step – Going to the cemetery as a family isn't necessarily about words spoken or the amount of time spent there; it is about taking this final step and accompanying a loved one to their final earthly resting place. Additionally, this place that is often visited in the future is framed with this memory of a meaningful experience there.
2. Community Acknowledgment – When our community recognizes and has to yield for a funeral procession, or even when they pass by a cemetery and see a crowd gathered there, it causes them to stop for a moment and acknowledge the loss of life. Supporting those who’ve experienced a loss begins by acknowledging a loss, and a graveside service is a poignant and meaningful step in that process.
3. Military Honors – Honors can be conducted at the funeral home or church, but there is something uniquely meaningful about conducting graveside military honors. The flag-draped casket rests in natural surroundings, and the flag is folded and presented with family and friends closely gathered round at a graveside ceremony.
4. A Final Message to Send – We offer families an opportunity to write a final message on the casket. We provide markers for children to trace their hand, draw a picture, or leave a short note, and families who’ve experienced this have commented that these acts of closure are simultaneously a step forward in the healing process.
5. Witness an Interment – Watching a casket being lowered into the ground is important to some families, and it is a somber yet solemn experience that can be profoundly meaningful.
There certainly may be circumstances that warrant a delayed or unattended burial. However, we do encourage each family to also consider the benefits of accompanying their loved one to their place of final rest because we’ve heard the positive benefits of doing so from those who’ve included this as part of their loved one’s memorial.