After loss, relearn joy of holidays

One afternoon, before the first cold spell struck, I was struck by how beautiful so many trees looked this year.
The reds and yellows were unusually dazzling for North Texas, and I enjoyed them as much as I did the annual vibrant displays during all the years when I lived much farther north.
But I realized, as I always did in earlier times, that this beauty is just a prelude to annual “death”: Colors fade, leaves fall and trees — plus much else — shut down for the winter.
This year has been a sad time in our Jewish community. Many have left us, including Jean Fagadau, a National Council of Jewish Women stalwart; Hank Meltzer, a past president of Tiferet Israel; and Wende Weinberg, the heart and soul of Levine Academy for so many years, whose illness claimed her even as many were readying for the major tribute dinner in her honor.
Thinking these things made me appreciate the fine information sheet prepared by VITAS Healthcare, which I found during my regular monthly “story time” visit to what was — until recently — The Legacy Preston Hollow, now sold in anticipation of our Federation’s forthcoming Legacy Midtown Park. I continue going to the now-renamed senior facility to share memories and discussion with the Jewish residents remaining there. But the attractive information sheets I found deal with “Loss and the Holiday Season,” appropriate for people of all ages and all religions, or none.
No senior facility is without losses — of residents themselves, or of those suffered by the residents. And these losses loom especially large at major holiday times, which “… take on new meanings and feelings when you are coping,” begins this valuable one-pager, with good information that’s easy to read and absorb. “Gatherings of family and friends, parties, religious holidays and events are all different now. Joy-filled songs, festive meals and shopping for gifts, or just being thankful for what you have, may have changed.”
The text goes on: “Looking at others, combined with your grief, may create a conflict in your heart. You want to honor your loss and memories … and you want to enjoy and celebrate holidays for spiritual or traditional reasons. Guilt and confusion go hand in hand. What can you do?”
The wisdom on this single piece of paper should be shared with everyone, not just seniors, because everyone inevitably experiences loss, and its sadness often returns to overtake celebratory feelings at times that were joyous when we shared them with those no longer here. Good advice is given, beginning with the idea that holidays are times to “surround yourself with people who love and support you,” but cautions, “let them know of any needed changes in your routine. Lean on them … let them help you …”
Since sharing should always be the essence of happy holidays, VITAS advises that it’s not only possible, but truly important, to “share the joy, love and happiness while honoring the past and your loss.” Yet while some people can still find comfort in old rituals at such times, others may experience them as unbearably painful; in these cases, it’s fine to initiate new ways of marking holidays, to create new traditions that can also encompass and celebrate the past.
VITAS provides a list of suggestions for such new, post-loss “traditions,” ranging from enjoying the foods and fun that your late loved ones always loved, to setting an extra place at your table in honor of a special person recently gone. The basic idea is not to give up entirely either the grieving or the celebration, but to find comfortable ways to meld them, to move personal life forward after a loved one’s death. Personal testimony: I have done this myself, successfully, since my own husband passed away.
If you would like a copy of this excellent advice, call VITAS at 214-424-5600. Even if it’s not needed now, it will help everyone when our inevitable leaves fall in the future.

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