My son’s football jersey lay folded on my lap; it will never be worn again. Not by my son and not by any other player on the High School football team. This is the gift offered in honoring my son’s life by the school and the team.
Determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends was my mantra to the team on Senior Banquet night as I encouraged them to be honest, stay away from drugs, and relayed my son’s struggle with addiction. Teammates, friends, of my son, received awards and applause for their contributions and accomplishments as athletes on this night; But, my son, Caleb, was not here on this night with his friends. Speaking this message on Dec. 7, 2018, was hard.
You know what else is hard?
Holidays are very hard for those of us who grieve. Holidays magnify the loss of a loved one, no matter if they died two weeks ago, or as in my case, my son died three and a half years ago from an accidental drug overdose; the heartache is heavier around the holidays.
The hard question is: how do we endure it?
I reflect on the words I spoke to Caleb’s teammates: determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends, and believe these are totally applicable to me right now as I endure this holiday season.
Sheer determination is what it takes to stand firm and persevere through the hard emotions, just as a lineman stands planted with both feet on the ground and all his weight pressed forward against the opposition that tries to plow him over. As the opposing teammate pushes against the lineman, hard emotions push against us who grieve and try to knock us down.
Strategy is key. A team does not go out on the field for a play without a strategy. Likewise, we who grieve need a strategy; what plan do we have to help us navigate the holidays when emotions run wild? My strategy is this:
- Allow and accept the emotions; it’s okay.
- Keep traditions; they provide stability.
- Invite others in; don’t isolate.
Lastly, look out for your friends.
Two-fold, this applies to those of us who grieve, as well as those who watch people grieve. I find when I am feeling low, the best remedy for rising up out of the dark places is to focus on lifting someone else up. This brings me joy: Jesus, Others, Yourself. In this order, I find healing.
If you are watching someone grieve, look out for them by sitting with their emotions, with them. Do not negate them or brush them under the rug, and never say, “you should be over this by now.” (Fact: people do not “get-over” missing their loved one). Include and invite: open your door for purposeful dates with those friends and speak about their loved one with them in a natural way of remembering; this is healing for us who grieve.
Determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends are three prompts I gave to the football team, friends of my son, Caleb, to spur positive and healthy life beyond the field. They are the same prompts I offer to you so that you may not only endure this holiday season, but have joy too!