I suppose it’d be asking too much to finish the relentless political publicity before we start in on the how-many-days-‘til-Christmas hype. It’s already started in my hometown of Houston where the Christmas lights are already coming on and the TV commercials are appearing for the annual consumer over-drive advertising campaigns.
If anyone near and dear to you is about to run this gauntlet of relentless holiday over-functioning as a first time single-again adult, I urge you to pause for a moment to consider how you might include them in your plans. This can be quite a depressing time of year for many folks for a multitude of reasons. Consider, for example, the following:
The days are shorter and the evenings are longer, and much darker.
The temperatures drop. Where I live we gratefully celebrate this; but in many parts of the country it means more hours indoors, cut off from fresh air and nature and other people.
The commercials just keep pushing shopping sprees that are designed to make us feel inadequate if we don’t get out there and get whatever is being promoted. Stuff doesn’t cure loneliness and constant exposure to things we can’t afford can add stress and contribute to feeling low.
The holiday movies focus on how wonderful it is to gather with family and friends to let the good times roll. That’s great. Unless your family isn’t there any more and you lack the time, energy, and finances to travel to be with them.
And so on and so forth.
This time of year can be a tough time if someone who was a regular part of daily life is no longer there. The grief is real and challenging whether the missing partner is gone through death or divorce. Often the newly single-again person desperately wants to be invited and included, but doesn’t quite know how to initiate an invitation if one’s not forthcoming. So, as both one who did what I knew how to do to for loved ones in that situation, and as one who’s been there myself, may I make a few suggestions?
- Just issue the invitation. They know they’re on their own now. You don’t have to point that out.
- If they want to talk, listen. You can’t fix the pain. Only time and God can reduce the pain. But you can let them talk and that helps. They may repeat the same story over and over again. Please don’t point that out to them. Telling the same story over and over is how they reduce it from something so gigantic they can’t see anything else to a manageable size they can begin to navigate around. If you were in their situation, you’d likely be doing the same thing.
- But don’t assume they want to talk. Maybe they have a counselor where they pour out all the grief. Maybe they just don’t want to talk about it. Around you, they may prefer to not have to talk or think about it for a while. Diversion won’t cure grief; but it does help pass the time. And there’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “Time heals all wounds.” That isn’t always true, but it does a lot to reduce the impact.
- Offer to go to one of the many holiday special events with them. Some single-again people are terrified of going places alone. That may seem ridiculous if you’re not that way, but the fear is real. Invite your single-again friend to a movie, play, party, or outing to experience the sights and sounds of the season.
- In case of a divorce, consider gifts that encourage moving on – gift cards for places to go and things to do rather than “stuff,” or books or movies that tell inspiring and motivational stories with happy endings.
- In case of a death, consider a gift in memory of their loved one to a place or cause you know to be important to them. Then of course send a note to let them know that’s what you’ve done.
- Phone, text, e-mail or send a snail mail card or note once in a while just to let them know you’re thinking of them. Maybe I’m strange in this department, but I have one desk drawer devoted to storing notes people have sent me when I’ve been the one recovering from some loss in my life. I held on to the cards I got after the death of each of my parents for twenty years. And I re-read each and every one of them before I finally released them into the recycling bin.
- Finally, and most importantly, don’t let your discomfort of their pain keep you from reaching out. The day will come when you will be longing for someone to reach out to you. Do what you imagine you’d want others to do if this were your lose. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say. You can’t go too far wrong with “How are you, really?” and then allowing time for the answer. Or “You’ve been on my mind and I wanted to let you know that.”
If we can get beyond all the commercial clutter of the season, we have two incredible events coming our way soon. One is a national day set aside to give thanks for the many blessings we have. Giving thanks is always a good idea. And, for the Christian community, an annual reminder that God so loved the world that he delivered that message in person in the form of a newborn baby. The birth of a baby means we’ve got another chance to learn how to love and cherish one another.