She came up to me after the service for the express purpose of relaying her gratitude for the effort. It was beautiful, she said, but so hard because her grief was so fresh. He had loved Thanksgiving and especially Christmas so the season alone made the loss more difficult.
We have a pretty standard format for our services: opening song, introduction of the speaker followed by the speaker, intro to the Power Point presentation followed by the presentation, then wrap up remarks and the lighting of the Commerative Tree (which amounts to pushing the button on the power strip into which all the lights are plugged). For the full effect, we turn off all the lights so the chapel is cloaked in total darkness, then this 12 foot tall tree, wrapped in thousands of white lights, magically illuminates. I get goose bumps just thinking about it and actually seeing it, even for the sixteenth time in as many years, still fills me with wonder.
That night the tree was absolutely beautiful as it stood quietly to the side, clothed in silver and gold, patiently waiting for its moment to literally shine—and when the lights dimmed and the tree illuminated the entire room, she had cried. He had loved Christmas so much and here stood a magnificent symbol of the season, a symbol that in spite of its beauty reminded her of how much she had lost.
There will be a lot of those reminders as the day draws nearer . . . special ornaments that speak of the past, events you attended together that now will be attended alone—if at all—family gatherings with an empty chair or a place now occupied by someone else. So much that makes us long for what we once had, so much that brings about the never ending ache deep in our souls.
We cannot change our present when it is tethered to the past, and we cannot plan for the future when we are constantly looking back. Grief is the devil to deal with and, if I believed it possessed the ability to think and plan, I would most definitely believe its goal was to suck the life out of living. But grief is not an entity unto itself. It cannot think. It cannot plan. And it can only rob us of that which we are willing to give. However, in order to prevail, we must be the ones with the plan. When you feel yourself slipping, close your eyes and count your blessings, those things which, in spite of all you have lost, are still right in your world. It may be that your spouse is still with you, or your children and grandchildren. It may be your friends who are always ready and willing to listen over a cup of coffee or lunch. Before you ever raise your head in the mornings, make that mental list. It may take a great deal of effort at first, since what is wrong is also overwhelming, but the more you focus on the positive, the stronger you will be when the grief returns. And it will always return, no matter how many happy thoughts you hold in your arsenal. Just keep in mind the words of wisdom found in the song Light in the Hallway:
Count your blessings every day. It makes the monsters go away. And everything will be okay. You are not alone . . .