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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

Families can learn to cope with loss

Monday, December 16, 2002

Holidays often bring feelings of depression

SIKESTON - For many, this won't be a joyful Christmas.

Some are coping with a death in the family, for others it's the loss of a job. There are those going through a divorce or another life-changing happening. And they're all finding themselves struggling to make it through the holiday season this year.

Terri and David Matthews have been there. A few months before Christmas 2001 their 20-year-old son Ben, was killed in an automobile accident.

"Ben was born on Thanksgiving Day so the memories were already there beginning with the Thanksgiving holiday," recalled Mrs. Matthews. "Christmas was coming and it would be the first time we were together again as a family. Ben loved Christmas. He always wanted a decorated Chevy Chase house, so of course we decorated.

"Ben lived life more that most people do. I miss him so. I miss his enthusiasm that he had for living and serving. So we decorated and remembered, laughed and cried, but we were together and we felt like Ben was watching us from heaven."

Although it didn't take the pain away, there were things the family found that helped them deal with their grief, such as putting up Ben's Christmas stocking on the mantle. "It was one of the sweetest things for me," Mrs. Matthews said.

Cyd Mitchell Lee says she found continuing traditions to be the best medicine. "The Christmas Eve service was going to be one of the most difficult traditions to get through and we were all doing quite well until it was time for the final song," recalled Lee, whose mother died a few years ago. "The lights dimmed and the congregation began to sing Silent Night. As we wiped tears from our faces, I realized then that without ever having said to each other over the years how special it is to sing that song together, I knew that we were all feeling that it was the most special of all traditions and that without her beautiful voice blending with ours (or should I say in Mother's case, carrying ours) it just didn't sound or feel the same. We missed her terribly that night, but found comfort in knowing that what we silently share will always be part of our tradition.

"Even though in that first year carrying on traditions may feel as though you are merely going through the motions and perhaps some of the joy is missing, in the familiarity of it all comfort can be found. The first Christmas we had without my mother was exactly that, going through the motions and not consciously thinking about anything."

And the year their son died the Matthews carried on the family tradition of wearing matching pajamas and taking a family photo. "We joke around and have a silly photo as well as try to take a nice one," Mrs. Matthews said. "Later, I scanned the photo and put Ben in the photo. I think I'm going to try to make some T-shirts this Christmas from that photo," she chuckled.

Memories too, said the Matthews, can be crucial to the healing process during the holidays. She said one of the most important things to remember is when a loved one is gone, the family left behind still remembers so it is important to talk about memories.

Mrs. Matthews also encouraged those grieving to ask for help in getting through this time of year. "Always pray, always remember and always give thanks to God for the blessings of loved ones. Don't rely on your own authority to get through the holidays. Embrace God and your family and loved ones. God is good to bring people together in troubled times to ease the pain and to bring glory to himself. In our tragedy there has been victory."

"My family has faced some real trials over the last couple of years," added David Matthews. "Our friends and family have stood with us day in and day out. They have comforted us and lifted us up with their presence and with their prayers. Going through tough times can harden you or make you more sensitive to others going through tough times. I think we can choose which way we react. Terri and I pray that we can use the tragedies of our life to be encouragers to others experiencing similar trials. Even for this we can be thankful."