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Absence of loved ones requires special effort during holidays

While the holiday season is a time of joy, food, gifts and reunions with family and friends who are rarely seen but dearly cherished, there are some years where families have a hole in them.

Sometimes a death steals someone from a family, sometimes it’s a couple’s troubles splitting a family apart. Sometimes a person just leaves with no explanation. 

Whatever causes the person to be gone, when the loss is fresh, the holidays are full of unexpected reminders that someone is missing.

Sitting around a table with an empty seat. Going shopping and suddenly realizing there’s no need to buy that special person a gift this year. Missing those little things that loved one always did during the holidays that might go undone this time around. Not having the right number of people to play that game you like. Missing that holiday dish they would make every year. The list goes on, full of tiny, unhappy surprises, ready to catch a person up in melancholy during a time when we try to be warm and cheerful.

Sudden reminders of a loss can be jarring and haunting, and can drive a person to avoid partaking in celebrations altogether, for their own sake, or for fear of bringing others’ moods down. Remembering what once made a holiday special can become a curse to the betrayed, the bereaved and the lonely.

To break that curse, new holiday traditions and memories must be formed. That doesn’t mean forgetting your lost loved ones, but it does mean pushing past the loss to focus on the joy that was there before, and rebuilding that joy and anticipation of the holidays with the people we still have.

No depth of sadness can bring back those who are gone. However, when these sadnesses confront us, we can make an effort to think beyond the loss and remind ourselves of what made those times worthy of missing.

Fond memories of times we can never recapture are bittersweet, but that’s part of experiencing life. Knowing somethings are temporary, finite and unique gives them value. Your remembered experiences can never be recreated or added to, and that’s what makes them precious, like an intricate piece of art created by a long-dead artist. The person who created the memory is gone, but they’ve left those memories behind for you to treasure.

But, no matter what it is, precious, beautiful treasures are to be put on a shelf and admired occasionally, not gripped tightly and dwelled on to the exclusion of all else. People really don’t focus on more than one thing very well. If we’re only focused on the happiness lost in the past, it becomes difficult to participate in the present. In order to create new happiness, the memory of the happiness that was held before needs to be released, or put on a shelf, for occasional appreciation only, like visits to the cemetery, browsing the photo album, or reminiscing with old friends.

And of course, this is the season for thinking of those around you. If you know someone that’s missing a loved one this year, try to make a special effort to cheer their holiday. It’s an opportunity to make the holiday special for both of you. Go beyond the holiday card or the charitable donation and work to form a new happy memory or tradition with someone. They might really need it, and you might be the only one who will provide it.

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