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Vail Daily column: Holiday memorials can bring you peace

Vanessa Lewis
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

The holiday season is a time to rejoice and to be social. For those who have suffered losses, it becomes a more challenging time of the year. While most people are celebrating, there are those suffering emotionally due to a death or illness within family or community.

Holidays and anniversary dates of the death of parents, partners, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, or others with whom we have shared our hearts are important days that invite us to remember and to bring back to life within our hearts all that we have shared with them. In setting aside time to reminisce, we can concretely express our love for those who have died and in our hearts, we are able to feel what is beyond words. The opportunity, when seized, can provide a feeling of freedom, allowing us to enjoy special days and/or the holiday season. In the therapeutic sense, we consider this an opportunity to externalize feelings, releasing them from inside, creating transformation and healing.

In the well-read book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert addresses this in her discussion of rituals.



“We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down,” Gilbert writes.

So what is this opportunity of ritual, and where do we find it? In the area of rituals, some cultures seem richer than others. For example, with the Kwanzaa, the African-based festival, there is the use of light and the “unity cup” to acknowledge and memorialize the death of a loved one that occurred during the year. Many cultures and religions have memorials related to loss and grief.



Typically in our culture we don’t share this pain of bereavement. It is considered a private emotion. Our culture offers little ritual, and so we must create our own. Simple daily life routines work nicely, such as burning a memory candle during meals over the holiday season and including a photo of our deceased or sick loved one. Making a memorial contribution to a favorite charity can bring some personal gratification.

The most important reality for us to embrace during the holiday season after loss is that our life has changed. Our experience of loss, any type of loss, presents us with the task of acceptance. Acceptance can give us a new perspective with our lives, new views on the value of life, the reality of the impermanence of this life.

Pondering sad, conflicted and deep feelings does not need to provoke depression, but rather this can be viewed as a personal growth experience. The expression of sad feelings can provoke us to embrace that which we do have. A metaphor for this concept is the spring season, after the long winter. Could we appreciate the spring so deeply if we have not endured the winter?



Consider accommodating your new feelings when planning holiday celebrations. There are many ways to memorialize within traditions, cultures and religions. The minutes you spend memorializing your loved ones and acknowledging your life experience potentially offers you personal peace, a new way of feeling and being with the holiday season.

Vanessa Lewis, LCSW, is a therapist at the Samaritan Counseling Center. She can be reached at 970-926-0249. Visit the center’s website at http://www.samaritan-vail.org for more information.


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