With All Saints Day approaching, I thought I’d give readers an advanced look at a column in the November issue of Washington Window by Margaret Treadwell, a family psychotherapist, and director of The Counseling Center at St. Columba’s Church, here in D.C. The column deals with grieving, and seems appropriate to the season because the approaching feast so often brings back memories of the saints who have graced our own lives.
I’d also like to invite you to the “Remembering” service, 7:30-9 p.m., on Nov. 6, at The Counseling Center at 4201 Albemarle St. NW. Peggy describes “Remebering” as “an evening when people who have lost loved ones can begin to heal by telling stories about those who have died.”
Registration is helpful – 202/363-9779 ext. 2
Click “continue” to read the column.
By Margaret M. Treadwell
In the Jewish tradition, people gather after a death to give thanks for grief, believing that mourning helps them to be more open and of comfort to others. On the Monday closest to All Saints Day, the Counseling Center at St. Columba’s offers “Remembering,” an evening when people who have lost loved ones can begin to heal by telling stories about those who have died—our way of sitting Shiva.
Frequently participants choose to be silent and listen. Being present is all that is necessary to remember. The evening concludes with an optional service in which we commend our loved ones, ourselves and our grief to the care of God.
The word “remember” literally means to re – member, to reunite that hidden wholeness in us and in our world that is so easily torn apart by powers within and around
us. We all remember and grieve differently. We first learn about grief in our families, who pass grieving traditions through the generations, traditions that we may want to continue or change.
The American author Reynolds Price said, “Storytelling is an essential human need…to hear and tell stories is second only to nourishment and love.” In some cases, our relationship with the remembered one was difficult, and the grieving process may be more painful over a longer period of time. In others, the departed are blessings in our lives, and strengthen us as we come to know them better in death.
Stories can help us to understand the relationship between love and grief. In a safe and confidential group setting, it is easier to ask questions: Is our grief simply a fundamental sadness over loss of love? Do we grieve because we feel guilty about something in the relationship that we can no longer correct? Or do we grieve because we don’t like the person who has died and can’t “get back” at him or her?
At one session, an adult woman talked for the first time about the sudden deaths of both her parents when she was a teenager. The tragedy had rendered her family and friends speechless, and the deaths remained shrouded in mystery. An elderly man told the story of his wife, who often said she wanted to die in the mountains of her native country and then died while she was visiting there. And a young man began to tell the story of a wonderful picnic he had with his father when he was a boy and then realized how angry he was at his father for being an alcoholic and dying too soon.
Participants often choose to follow up on the evening for further conversation with one of the clergy or in a bereavement group with the Center’s pastoral counselor, Sally Edwards.
A recurring theme around All Saints’ Day is how to handle the upcoming holidays, when the hole in the heart seems greater as the world appears to be caught up in joyous preparation. The following coping strategies are useful well before the holidays begin:
Decide what you can handle comfortably and let your needs and limits be known to family, friends and relatives. Don’t be afraid to make changes, even changing the location of where you spend special days.
Consider acknowledging your loss by doing something for others – giving a gift in memory of your loved one, donating money you would have spent on a gift to charity, adopting a family in need for the holiday or inviting a guest who would otherwise be alone to share your hospitality. Children especially understand and benefit from these actions.
Enjoy memories that help you know the departed are never far distant even in death.
Don’t be afraid to have fun. Laughter and enjoyment are not abandoning your loved one, so give yourself permission to celebrate in ways that bring you a new form of pleasure.
Take one day at a time and be realistic.
Refocus your thoughts on the religious implications of the holidays. Don’t allow your faith to be betrayed by your loss.
And if you want to be present for a grieving family in a meaningful way, the following ideas have helped others:
Prayer. Letting a person know that you and the community are praying for them can be a great source of strength.
Write. Short notes are better than telephone calls, which require a response that can be too much.
Visit. Keep it short. If you want someone you love to hear you, tell a good, short story.
Food or transportation. What are the family’s needs and who can help?
Reach out—especially after the crisis has passed. Some cultures mourn, wear black armbands and offer special services for at least a year after death.
Remembering. 7:30-9 p.m. Nov. 6 at The Counseling Center at St. Columba’s, D.C. (4201 Albemarle St. NW). All are welcome. Registration is helpful – 202/363-9779 ext. 2.
Margaret M. “Peggy” Treadwell is a family psychotherapist. She is the director of The Counseling Center at St. Columba’s, D.C. For information about the center or to make an appointment, call 202/363-9779 or visit www.columba.org.