As we transition into fall and move our sights toward winter, we can see we are about to dive into a season steeped in traditions, culture, family, and community gatherings. Most of these are focused on joy, love, light, and the simple pleasure of gathering with family and friends.
Now more than ever, we feel the missing presence of a newly deceased relative or friend. Their place at the table remains painfully empty and the void is often deafening. In response, we are often told to focus on the positive, the joy, and not to dwell on the past or the pain.
Well, my friends…forcing “happy” often makes us sadder. Avoiding or ignoring the pain generally just makes more pain. Ignoring grief is actually giving it a VIP Gold Member invitation.
Before we can go forward, we need to go back.
Historically, many of our ancestors returned home from distant fields to hunker down for the hard winter months to come. The return to hearth and home, to family and close-knit community life, is embedded in our bones. We take a break from “ploughing” through our daily grind to have time with family.
Borrowing a grief-soothing tool from our past or from our cultural neighbors can help. There are many ways to handle the “Season of Joy” while working with your grief.
Remember that the love we feel is in direct relationship to the gratitude we feel for their presence in our lives. The heartache we feel from the loss of a beloved can be soothed with the salve of gratitude for what they brought to our lives.
- In Latin America, Dia de los Muertos—The Day of the Dead—is a huge celebration completely devoted to remembering and honoring our beloved dead in a beautiful example of acknowledging our love and loss.
- In late October, take an afternoon to spruce up and decorate the graves of your relatives. Gold and orange marigolds are the traditional flowers for this.
- In the Celtic and British traditions, set a place at the table with a picture or name card for a recently dead relative. Giving permission to acknowledge their presence in everyone’s mind offers powerful healing.
- Start the meal by offering toasts to family members, pets, and close friends who have died since the last family gathering as a way to welcome the love you shared with them to the table.
- Stories are a highlight of fireside chats. Share the stories of your beloved dead with laughter and tears. This is how they live on forever in our hearts.
- Invite those coming to dinner to bring a pebble or flower for each person they have lost in the last year. In turn, people can place these in a vase on the table and offer a story.
Ashley T Benem is the founder of the non-profit A Sacred Passing: Death Midwifery Service and the creator of The Art of Death Conference. She is an advocate for palliative and end-of-life care issues, empowering and supporting families to reclaim their right to die in congruence with their lives. Contact Ashley at firstname.lastname@example.org.