Terri Netterville: Keeping it Real

In Lola Shreveport, Louisiana Ladies, Teri Netterville by Lola Magazine

Love and Loss during the Holidays

The holiday season is, once again, upon us and my gosh, how this time of year conjures up so many feelings in each of us.

For some, it means going into the attic and pulling out all of the annual decorations that immediately washes the spirit in sweet nostalgia.

Holiday dinners will be planned.  Party invitations will begin showing up in mailboxes.  And other festivities hosted by your community will be promoted on your local television channels.

It is among the most fun and glorious times of the year.

However, there is another side to this most special time of year that is hardly ever broached, yet is experienced by so very many of us.

It is this time of year when many brace themselves for a holiday without a cherished loved one.

Sometimes, a loved one is absent from your family during this time of year due to work or other logistic and complicated obligations.

Some have a loved one a million miles away due to their innate desire to fight for our country and the moral principles it was founded upon.

There are also many who are experiencing the absence of a loved one from their table due to a terrible misunderstanding or an unfortunate circumstance that sadly tore them apart.

And then there are those who are desperately clinging to what’s left of  life as they know it as they learn to navigate through the darkest time of their lives.  They are being forced to move forward after the painful loss of a precious love in their life.

The emptiness they are feeling becomes magnified and almost too much to bear during the holidays.

Many feel gypped.  They feel slighted.  They feel robbed….and quite frankly, many can’t help but feel anger about the unfairness of it all.

And it is unfair. So incredibly unfair.

I have great empathy and compassion for those of you who are being forced to face this hard part of life and loss…especially during the holidays.

I’ve been there.

It hurts.  And it stinks.

But I do have some good news for those of you experiencing loss for the first time during this time.

When you’ve been through a few holiday seasons without your loved one/s who have passed on, you are able to look back at the process with better clarity and greater perspective.

And for me, it seems only fitting that I share that perspective with you in great hopes that it can somehow soothe a wounded soul or the broken spirit of one who is experiencing loss during this holiday season for the first time.

First of all, let me acknowledge that the pain and heartache you are experiencing is very real. Gosh, it’s hard. And I am so sorry about that.

One of the greatest fears for those who have lost a treasured love is the fear that the world might forget.  My gosh, the idea that people might forget how fun…how smart…how special…how relevant your loved one is to this world is almost terrifying.

And this goes for the baby born without a heartbeat from the mother’s loving womb, to the elderly soul who lived to be 110 years old!  Each soul is so relevant to this world…and their loved one never wants us to forget them.

I remember being stricken with worry about this very thing after my father died, so for that first Christmas after his death, I hosted a “Heavenly Ornament Exchange.”

At this Christmas party, I hosted about thirty friends, whom I knew had lost a loved one. I asked each friend to bring an ornament that represented their loved one who had passed on to the other side.

I had them draw numbers from a basket…and whatever number they drew, they were instructed to pick the coordinating number on the ornament that was displayed with the others around my Christmas tree. (I placed numbers on each ornament as they came in.)

Each guest would then hold up the treasured ornament and read the short note attached. This note briefly explained who the person was that the ornament was meant to symbolize.  And then they read the reason why.

For example, if I brought a red bird ornament to the exchange, I could write something as simple as, “My beloved grandmother Gracie loved red birds so much. She used to tell me that if one crosses your path that means you are to have good luck that day.  I now think of her every time I see a red bird.”

I would sign my name and the person reading the note would show my ornament and read my note aloud.  They would then get to keep that ornament forever.

And every year they hung that ornament on their Christmas tree, they would remember my loved one.

It was a simple way to remember a loved one during the holidays and share something sweet without it being uncomfortable for anyone.

I now wonder why I didn’t continue to make this a sweet yearly tradition.  I might have to pick that back up because it was really fun.  Laughter emanated my home that night.

There are so many fears that we experience after we lose someone we love.  And yet, some of the fears we most worry about never even happened.

Here are just a few:

The fear of never experiencing real joy again.

The fear of not being able to laugh at the same things you once laughed at.

The fear of Thanksgiving and Christmas not feeling as special anymore.

Those fears and many others were lessoned by this reality: some of the greatest discoveries about yourself and about your life actually happen during the times you think might be the worst of your life.

Like some of these:

People come through.  They just do.  God sends in His troops to give us a tangible sense of His presence when we need it the very most.  And it is the best feeling in the world.

Eventually, genuine laughter passes through the lips again and it feels like a gift from heaven.

Laughter is key.  It becomes the cure for grief.

Joy eventually takes hold of your soul and this sometimes happens when you least expect it.

Love is stronger than death.  You can rely on that.

That bond between your loved one and you remains with you all the days of your life.

If you remain open to God’s Grace, it can become the conductor of your life as you travel on this journey of faith.

In time, you will realize that moving forward in life with joy and happiness in your heart, is the ultimate gift to your loved one.  This is the greatest way you can continue their great legacy here on earth.

During this special time of thanksgiving, I am full of gratitude for LOVE.

Love really does conquer all.

And that, my friends, is keeping it real.

Terri Netterville and her family, Christmas 2009