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Holidays bringing up painful memories? Here’s what to do.

+ Holidays bringing up painful memories? Here’s what to do.

[ Posted on 12.06.2016 ]

I love the holidays, especially Christmastime.  Whether I am alone or with family, I love the hustle and bustle of the season. The singing. The gift giving. The love. I’m not so crazy about the unrelenting merchandising that pops out earlier and earlier each year but I’ve gotten very good at tuning it out.

I know that isn’t true for many others. I often hear people say, “I hate Christmas.” Or “This is the worst time of the year for me.” The reason is often because they are remembering some event that happened during the holidays. That was the time my husband died. Or a fire destroyed our home. Or I lost a child. If you have someone like this in your life, what can you do to help them through this time of year (or any time of year)? What can you do to help yourself?

One. Deal with your own feelings, beliefs and shoulds first. The freer and less judgmental you are, the better friend you will be. So look at what you are feeling and believing.  For example:

If you are compassionate and understanding, what a gift! But are you also feeling sorry for them? If you were in their shoes, would you want someone to feel sorry for you? Or would you want to just be heard?

Are you blaming them for putting a damper on things? Sadness is not contagious, although when we take it on as our own feeling, that is what we are believing. Remember that it is not their goal to “ruin” everyone’s holiday. In fact, they may even want to drop out of festivities and be alone.  If you want to be there for them, allow that their feelings are their own and your feeling are your own.

Are you believing they should be different? Why do you believe that? Experiment with total acceptance of where they are at. At the same time, get in touch with this simple idea – we are all unhappy because we believe it is the best way to be at the moment. You can honor their right to be wherever they are and still want them to suffer less. As the person who is outside of them, you have the distinct privilege of knowing this about them. Be with that and see where it takes you.

Are you asking why they haven’t gotten over this yet (if it has been years)?  Again, how would you feel if someone said this about you? Every unhappiness is just as potent as any other. If the event happened five minutes ago or five decades ago, it is still suffering. By asking this question, think about what you are really saying and turn that into something life affirming. For example, they can get over this, not they should get over this. Know this for them in the quiet of your own mind and let it guide your actions.

Two. Be content to just be there with an open, loving heart. I remember a time many years ago when a dear friend of mine lost his father. He came to be with me and we just sat together. I wanted to do something to comfort him and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I told him that. He said something that I will never forget. “I just want to be next to you. “ We could have talked. I could have tried to help him with his grief, but he only wanted to be with someone he could just rest with. It was a beautiful time that we’ll both always cherish.

Three. Listen. Listen. Listen. Often when sadness enters the rooms, people feel that they don’t know what to say or do. So they resort to platitudes or avoid the person altogether. There is nothing wrong with this, but perhaps we can do better. If we deal with our issues as I describe above, we will be free to listen, to really hear what they are feeling, believing and experiencing. When you combine listening with love, acceptance and the knowledge that they are doing the best they can at the moment, you will know what to do with the information you are receiving.

Four. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I feel most heard when someone asks me relevant, nonjudgmental, loving questions. We all want to heard, especially when we are suffering. Ask questions out of the desire to help your friend open up to another way of looking at things. This is simpler than it seems. So be simple and just ask basic open-ended questions, mostly to help them clarify where they are at. The questions will be most potent if there are no judgments, assumptions or givens behind them, especially the assumption that the person has no choice to feel other than the way they do.

Five. Be present and open. Allow yourself to be with someone in the moment without stressing about what happened or what will happen. This includes the circumstances behind their sadness and also the end result of your being with them. At the end of the day, the moment we are experiencing is where we can create an open channel of communication.  To the extent that our attention is drawn back into history or forward into the future, the quality of our communion with our friend will be disrupted.

Six. Don’t shy away. Being with someone in their time of sadness is a precious opportunity to allow love to do its work. Two memories come to mind for me. I was in St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City, a place I love to go. As I was sitting there, I heard a woman sobbing behind me. I didn’t think it was “appropriate” for me to do anything, even though I was drawn to her. I left without doing anything. I think about that day from time to time. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have just gone and sat with her quietly. It’s not so much the idea that I could have helped her. It’s about me expressing what I find most precious about life, coming alive to the call of another human being.

The other memory is when I was at a resort in Florida years ago. I was waiting for a table at the bar when I overheard a woman beside me talking on her phone. It was clear to me that this woman had recently lost someone. I remembered the time at St. Paul’s Chapel and how I had missed that opportunity to be with someone who was suffering. It felt so right to turn to her when she hung up and ask her, “Did you just lose someone?” She told me that she and her husband had come on vacation and he had died in the hospital that day from a heart attack. We clasped hands and talked for some time. I gave myself over completely to being with her in a loving, nonjudgmental way. I didn’t worry about what was appropriate or whether I had anything to offer to her. I truly felt that a channel had opened between us. We both opened up to seeing the grace around her loss.  I felt that we had shared an unforgettable moment of communion in the midst of one of the most challenging life situations imaginable.

If you are the person experiencing grief or sadness at the holidays, show this article to someone you trust and love. Often people want to help, but they just don’t know what to do. Give yourselves a chance to see things differently together.

To your happiness, Wendy Dolber

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Happiness is the feeling of freedom to the nth degree.

[ Bruce Di Marsico ]