No, I'm not going to ask you to drop a few dollars in a bell-ringer's bucket or donate toys or food to a worthy organization. My request is a bit different; in fact, you may be a bit uncomfortable as you begin reading. I ask, though, that you read the entire entry (no, that's not the favor).
This past week, I attended visitation for Uncle Frank, my husband's uncle. He passed away after a long, valiant battle with pancreatic cancer and other health issues. I have some idea of what Uncle Frank's wife and children are going through this Christmas. Two years ago, my children and I were facing our first Christmas without my husband, their father. A year ago this week, I got an early-morning phone call from my sister, informing me that our mother had unexpectedly passed away.
That first Christmas after the loss of a loved one is, as everyone knows, rough (to put it mildly). What many may not realize is that, for many who have lost a spouse, parent, child, etc., the second year can be even more difficult! I know that was true for me; in early Fall 2010, I actually found myself struggling with the loss of my husband as if it had just happened. Coming out of the blue -- contrary to what I had expected after watching others grieve a loss and from reading articles and books about grieving -- I was knocked for a loop.
When I stopped to analyze what was happening, though, it made sense to me. I had heard all my life that the first year is the hardest. When my grandmother died, my mother and her siblings discussed how her coming birthday would be very difficult for Grandpa, as would their "first" anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. When my husband died, I read the literature I was given from hospice and from the funeral home, as well as books on grieving. All cautioned the reader about the "firsts". As a result, I believe my subconscious went into "Let's just get her through _ and she'll be fine" mode for our anniversary, each holiday, my husband's birthday, and so on. My emotional defenses went on high-alert as every "first" approached and helped me through each one.
Another change that second year was that friends and loved ones had moved on. The phone calls, cards, and emails which had come fairly regularly from friends and some family members after Steve passed way came less frequently near the end of that first year. After a brief resurgence near the anniversary of his passing, our communications returned to their pre-September 2009 pattern. I'm certainly not complaining. My friends' lives had continued, and my children's and my loss was not as fresh in their minds. They had busy lives with their own ups and downs to deal with. The kids and I were "fine" (hadn't I said that over and over?), and life was going on.
Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, I've met other widows/widowers and have found that my experience is not unusual. Many have expressed that they were shocked that getting through holidays and special dates was actually more difficult the second year. In fact, more than a few have told me that it was during that second year that they sought grief counseling or searched for a support group.
So this is where I come full circle, back to the favor I want to ask of you. Think back to those you know who lost a loved one more than a year ago. Maybe it's your Uncle Tom, whose wife passed away back in 2005 or your grandmother, who lost your grandfather even before you were born. Take some time this year to do something special for them. Call them this evening. They may well be sitting at home alone, reminiscing about Christmases past as they watch the twinkle of the Christmas tree lights. Stop by with a batch of cookies or a box of chocolate-covered cherries (my personal favorite this time of the year) and chat for awhile. Invite them to sit with you at church or to attend your children's Christmas program. Send them a "thinking of you" card. Do something. Give them the gift of your time, your love, your support. It may be the most important gift you give this year.