Thinking Out Loud: Holiday and hurricane seasons can be similar

John T. Catrett, III
John T. Catrett III

Hurricane season begins June 1st and ends around November 30th. It can be a time when storms rage, winds blow and one which causes fear and dread from those in its path.  (I find it interesting that hurricane season ends around the time the intensity of our grieving can really kick in, i.e. the holiday season. It’s almost as if it is a forewarning to us to “get ready” for what is ahead).

People on the east and south coast are ever mindful of super storms out of the ocean. When people hear news of a storm approaching, some people evacuate, and others decide to ride it out by staying in their homes.  My loved ones who live in the south have experienced how dangerous it can be to ride out a storm, Thankfully, they survived.  

As we approach the holiday season, many people face a similar fear, and unfortunately, some do not survive. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death of adults living in the United States.  Fall is one of the peak seasons for suicides, even though it is also supposed to be a time of celebration, family gatherings and good times.  Could that be why the sense of hopelessness storms in?

For many of us who have lost loved ones due to death or even divorce, it becomes our hurricane season.  It's a time for emotional storms and intense anxiety and dread.  No one wants to face the season when we are forced to realize momma won't be making Thanksgiving dinner. Dad won't be helping to put up the tree. The child that is gone won't have presents under the tree and you won't have your spouse to kiss on New Year's. While no one can stop this storm from coming, we can get prepared to ride out the storm. 

Here are some thoughts for riding out the potentially stormy holiday season after a loss: 

Put the holiday/milestone date(s) on the calendar into perspective and don't let them render you powerless.  Whereas a hurricane can be tracked and a certain amount of warning can be offered, there are also many uncertainties.  On the other hand, holiday, anniversary, and birthday dates remain the same every year.  That’s on our side.  We can plan for them.  Why?  Our anxiety about the approaching day can overwhelm our emotions and throw us into an emotional swirl.  As much as we'd like it to, the calendar is not going to change.  Those dates will arrive every year, however, we do not have to greet them with dread.  Dread is an evil cousin of fear. According to Dr. Cindy Trimm “Dread:  Stronger in intensity, dread grips the heart as it anticipates impending events which are difficult or impossible to avoid, rendering one helpless and powerless over it.” (Rules of Engagement Vol. 2, Binding the Strongman, Pg. 181)  If you are dreading the holiday, ask yourself why?  What one thing are you actually dreading the most?  When you have the answer, take it to God in prayer and ask for insight on the worst case scenario and the best case scenario.  Ask God for an ability to see Him with you in both situations.  There can be strength in numbers.  Share your feelings and thoughts with family or a friend who can be a support as you walk through the actual dates.  A minister, counselor or anyone you can trust with your emotions may have some additional insight or suggestions to customize your situation.

Grieve naturally and develop healthy grieving habits.  It's perfectly okay to miss our loved ones and even shed a tear or many throughout the season. It's a normal part of the grieving process; a process that typically lasts for 18-24 months.  Crying does not make you weak; it makes you healthy.  God gave us tear ducts for a reason.  Their job is to release tears, and those tears release our feelings in “liquid words” for which you may struggle to find actual words.  Whereas some people are master avoiders of any type of pain, it is helpful to embrace pain as a sign of life.  Dead people don’t feel.  Those who loved deeply, grieve deeply.  It has been said, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  Celebrate the experience and memories you have from having loved deeply.  Male or female, it's okay to cry, smile or even laugh during these times.  Sometimes we expect ourselves to be so miserable, but when the day comes we are surprised because we're okay. It's okay to be okay!  There will be windy days, sunny days, and stormy days.  You will have to ride them all out, but in the end, you will be okay.

Be proactive by preparing your hurricane season first-aid kit with everything you need to ride out the storm.  As we mentioned earlier, for some storms evacuation is the best option.  For others, riding it out with provision and a plan is wiser.  If you plan to “evacuate” it may mean that you make plans to do something special on the date so that you have something good to look forward to, instead of it being something to dread.  You create new memories.  Caution here:  If you are using it to run from pain, you are only making things worse as buried pain and sorrow can erupt later in outbursts that cause serious damage.  Maybe, what you need is to hunker down with some beautiful worship music, photo albums, family or dear friends who can reminisce and celebrate the wonder of what you had, and plan together through the year of “firsts” what your new season will look like.  It won't replace the old memories or people we loved, but it will allow you to grieve healthily and begin living a new normal life without those loved ones.  Sometimes, the grieving isn’t the beauty of what you no longer have, but the sorrow of what never was and now never will be.  There is hope for that scenario as well.  Accept that we can’t make anyone learn and grow in understanding and relationship tools that make beautiful relationships and life together possible.  But we can celebrate the gift of free will, sowing and reaping (that gives us insight to learn for ourselves or from others), and the joy of sharing our new insight with others to make the world a better place for those who do want to learn and grow.  This time of hunkering down while the storm rages around us can be invaluable for calming the storm within us.  

Of course, this list is only the beginning of the plethora of available ideas to help us navigate the stormy holiday season. I hope these few ideas will help you.  And if it's not something you need, please share this with someone whom it will help.  This thoughtfulness for one another helps us all to ride out the storms of our lives.  God bless you with His insight, guidance, and peace.  Amen.

John T. Catrett III is ONHL hospice chaplain and writes a regular column about loss of loved ones and how to cope with grief.