Two weeks ago, I took some time with our staff to ask them to help me reflect on what underlies our Light Up A Life ceremonies, which honor those loved ones we have lost during the holiday season. I asked them to provide me with some of the key truths that many of us may share. I asked them to list two kinds of truths: “hard truths,” realities that grief forces us to acknowledge, and “welcome truths,” realities that we can choose to affirm at Light Up A Life and during the holidays.
We came up with quite a list — almost a dozen of each kind. We are making the full list available on our website, Facebook page and in our office. But I want to share three from each list. I invite you to see if these statements speak to you:
From the list of hard truths:
» The first is, “I can’t change the past.” Our mind and heart may want to try to find some way to bring our loved one back, or to have told them something important, or have done something that would have saved their life. But in time, the truth sinks in that we cannot go back. This is very hard.
» “I may never know why it happened.” Several years ago, there was a TV interview with L.A. Dodgers announcer Vin Scully and UCLA legend John Wooden. At one point in the interview, Scully was asked how he got through two personal tragedies. The first came when his wife died suddenly when they still had three young children, and the second came years later when his son died in a helicopter accident. Scully said he was haunted by the question of why this should happen, and it wasn’t until he decided to stop asking “why” that he finally could begin to move on. When people we love die too soon, or too suddenly, or too tragically, we may be driven to keep trying to figure out why something like this is allowed to happen. In time, many of us realize we may never know why, and this can be hard.
» A third hard truth is, “I have to re-create my life.” This seems particularly harsh early on in the grief experience, as we are often have no energy or desire to reshape our days and years. My grandmother took her own life when my mother herself was a widow with two young children. There was no hospice then, and her losses were rarely talked about. In time, my mother did her best to move on. In time, we have to re-create our lives.
So these are three of the hard truths of grief. But in time we find some truths that we may slowly welcome. This does not mean we ever give up wishing the person was still with us, but it does mean we can find some ways to stand up in the face of our loss and make some affirmations:
» The first is, “I will honor my loved one.” I will light a candle for them every night in this season. I will talk about them to keep their memory alive. I will come to this ceremony and place a star on this tree and affirm how much love and affection I will always have for them.
» The second is, “I can experience healing over time.” This may seem impossible soon after our loss, and as time goes on, great waves of grief may come to us unexpectedly and we may think we will never progress. But we know that with supportive relationships, time and love, we can experience healing. We have the power of resilience within us, and in time it can grow and find some healing.
» And the third truth is, “I am not alone.” Of course no one truly knows exactly what we feel and remember and experience. But if there is one truth that has guided Hospice of Santa Barbara over the last 39 years it is that we can find strength in sharing this journey with others. We all carry our private thoughts within us, but tonight we are standing together. Right now, we are shoulder to shoulder with each other in this public space and in front of this tree and not alone. I remember the words of a child who had lost his mom. He was at one of our events in our mentor program. At his school, maybe no one knew what it was like to grow up without a mom. But after spending months with one of our adult mentors, he came to a gathering of adults and children who had all lost a mom or a dad as children. He came running into the room and said, “I miss my mom but everybody here loves me.”
For 30 years in Santa Barbara and Goleta and 20 years in Carpinteria, all of us at Hospice of Santa Barbara know the grieving during the holidays can confront us with some painful truths. But we also affirm some powerful and healing truths: You can honor your loved one. You can heal over time. And you are not alone.
— Steve Jacobsen is executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara. Call Hospice of Santa Barbara at 805.563.8820 for a schedule of adult and children’s groups, or to make a donation. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.