Last night I participated in a Service of Solace put on by our Idyllwild Interfaith Leadership Alliance. This is our fifth year of recognizing the grief that those people with losses feel at this time of year, with the approach of the holidays. A time that is traditionally filled with joy and family feels uncomfortable, even unbearable. So we gather to honor and share those feelings.
This year’s service had about 75 participants, along with seven of us ministers and spiritual leaders. Some came with friends to support them; others were returning for another year or two. There were tears, hugs, and lovely music to comfort. The losses were recent and old, human and animal, expected and unexpected.
Permission was given to feel the grief rather than hide it and gloss over it. This was familiar territory for me as a hospice chaplain. Our patients and families are dealing with the anticipatory grief of impending loss. There are questions, fears, rants and denials. What is most needed is a loving listener to receive and hold all of these while the patient and loved ones prepare.
After death, the families are still in active grieving mode, often requiring support and information in order to deal with the sorrow, desolation, loneliness and even anger. Grief groups and individual counseling are offered by most hospice organizations and hospitals.
When my younger brother died of cancer, I was left with my own grief, along with that of my mother, for whom I was caring part-time. The grief counselor called me weekly and then monthly to listen and offer suggestions. I truly valued her involvement.
During this season of light, I stand with those who are heavy-hearted. There is no shame in grief.