SAN DIEGO — The holiday season is considered a joyful time of year.
But for those who have recently lost a spouse, either by death or divorce, that often isn’t the case. And the big family gatherings, festive traditions and cheery music that dominate the season can more likely than not be triggers for strong feelings of grief or regret.
Janelle Peregoy, associate director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, has some advice for the widowed and divorced who may be approaching the holidays with trepidation.
- Trust your instincts
Perhaps you’re the type of person who is looking forward to that holiday party and would take comfort in being around others. Or perhaps the very concept of attending that party fills you with dread. You know best which of these is true.“It’s important for you to trust in yourself and not to be talked into anything by anyone else,” Peregoy said.She encourages family members and friends to “check in” with their widowed and divorced friends about whether they plan to attend particular events, but don’t pressure them into a decision. Be supportive and accepting of whatever they choose to do.
“Just be their champion,” she advises.
- Evaluate your relationship with solitude
Solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Nevertheless, many well-meaning people assume that, just because their widowed or divorced friends are on their own more than they used to be, they must be lonely.“That may not necessarily be true,” said Peregoy, who notes that the newly acquired solitude might be a welcome opportunity for examining their own thoughts, listening to music, or simply being free from the pressure they had been under recently.Peregoy encourages the widowed and divorced to reflect on what their needs are in terms of solitude, and she urges others to respect those needs and not “project their own thoughts” onto the situation.
- Begin creating new traditions
Peregoy recounted a recent conversation she had with a divorced mother of teenage children.The woman told her that one of her family’s holiday traditions used to include a big Christmas Eve celebration to which they even invited the neighbors. Not feeling up to it that first Christmas after her divorce, she and her children tried something different: They ordered pizza, watched Christmas movies and gorged on junk food.“It was fun, it was easy, and they’ve made that their new tradition. … Her sons and daughters are young adults now, but they still look forward to that on Christmas Eve, because they have so many positive associations with that first year doing it together.”
- Learn to pray with the Psalms
The Old Testament’s Book of Psalms includes hymns of praise to God and expressions of thanksgiving, as well as laments.For centuries, Jewish and Christian believers have found solace and consolation in the inspired words of the Psalmists.“The Psalms give us such breadth of human emotion,” said Peregoy, promising that somewhere among the 150 Psalms is one or more that correspond to whatever your present situation is.
- Embrace the spirit of Advent
While many people do think of Christmas as “that joyous, family-centered holiday,” Peregoy said, “The grace of the Church is that we (also) have Advent; we have this more introspective time, when we’re preparing for the birth of Jesus.”Peregoy recommends that widowed and divorced Catholics find ways to enter into the spirit of the four-week liturgical season of Advent, which begins this year on Sunday, Nov. 28.Her advice is to use this graced moment “to refocus your prayer life, because God is always with you in this pain.” One possible way is to attend any Advent services offered at your local parish.
When preparing for Christmas, Peregoy said, we are preparing to celebrate “the power of Christ to change the world, the power of Christ to heal our wounds.”
“I think Advent can be a beautiful time to sink into that.”
RESOURCES FOR THE WIDOWED AND DIVORCED
Many resources are available to those navigating life after divorce or the death of a spouse, including:
“Coping with the Holidays”
A free workshop with suggestions and resources for those who have lost a loved one. 4 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 17, in the Ministry Center at St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach. Facilitated by Mary Pat Warner, licensed marriage and family therapist, and Barbara Bailey, registered nurse. Advance registration required; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 945-2370.
In the new year, Beginning Experience will be offering various in-person workshops and retreat opportunities. Beginning Experience is an international ministry that helps the widowed, divorced and separated move beyond grief with weekend programs. More information available at (858) 748-2273 or BeginningExperienceSD@gmail.com.
Parish-Based Support Groups
There are ongoing grief-support groups, offering peer-to-peer support in both English and Spanish, at parishes throughout the diocese. Those interested in more information should contact Janelle Peregoy, associate director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, at (858) 490-8292 or email@example.com.