Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas far from happiest time of the year for many among us

December 24, 2006


When Nancy Taylor was a child, her father would always tell her he hated to see the holidays come.

At the time, she didn't understand why her father called Christmas a sad time. For a child, she said, Christmas is fun.

Now, with both of her parents gone, Taylor understands.

"I now know what he meant," said Taylor, 62. "I've been saying, 'I'll be glad when it's over.'"

Taylor isn't alone. In Lawrence and across the state, hospice centers fill with those mourning a loved one. The holiday season, counselors say, sparks memories of time together as a family - a family that, for some, isn't around anymore.

"It's supposed to be a happy season," said Gillian Woods, bereavement director at Heart of America Hospice. "But they're not happy."

A Christmas song

Whomever someone has lost - a parent, a child, a spouse - the memories rush back at Christmastime.

Woods has heard the stories, the words blended with sobs. Every step is overwhelming, she said. Putting up decorations, wrapping presents.

"A lot of people just want to erase everything about Christmas," Woods said. "And they do."

There is a certain pressure, she said, to put on a happy face for the holidays. Even close family doesn't always understand why a Christmas song or an old family ornament can stir tears.

People don't know what to say, Woods said. So, often, they say nothing - no phone calls, no cards.

But what they need now, at Christmas, she said, is a kind word, arms wrapped around them.

Gini Wigington lost her husband, Henry, more than a year ago. Monday will mark her second Christmas alone. Seen here with some of her husband's military medals, Wigington says she struggles with loneliness during the holiday season.

Gini Wigington lost her husband, Henry, more than a year ago. Monday will mark her second Christmas alone. Seen here with some of her husband's military medals, Wigington says she struggles with loneliness during the holiday season.

'Muddle through it'

Not quite a year and a half ago, Gini Wigington's husband, Henry, died of a brain tumor. When he was diagnosed around Christmas 2001, doctors told him he had only a few months to live.

"He fooled a lot of doctors," Wigington said.

She assumed that Henry would die some other way. He flew planes for years, did a tour above the treetops of Vietnam for the Air Force. She figured his plane would go down, that an officer would knock on her door one day and deliver the news.

When he survived the war and they continued to pass the years together, the 74-year-old Wigington thought they still had plenty of years in them.

Monday will mark her second Christmas alone. The second Christmas is the hardest, hospice workers say, the time when reality sets in and the support system the year before may have moved on.

When Henry was first diagnosed, Wigington said, all of their friends were shocked, stuck close by for support. Once Henry died, their friends weren't so close anymore.

"It's very, very lonesome," she said. "No one wants to be about death - not even at Christmas."

Wigington has two adult children, and both live out of town. She spent last Christmas in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her daughter. It helped, she said.

But this year, Wigington will stay in her house in Lawrence and just "muddle through it," she said.

It won't be easy, she knows. At a recent hospice meeting, she told the others, "It feels like you have a vacant place, a hole inside of you. At Christmas, it feels like that hole is getting larger."

You're not alone

If you are grieving this holiday season, contact: ¢ Heart of America Hospice in Lawrence at 841-5300 ¢ Headquarters Counseling Center: 841-2345, or in Baldwin City: 594-6490 If someone you know is grieving, counselors recommend: ¢ Staying in touch over the holidays. Even a phone call helps. ¢ Letting people know you are thinking of them by inviting them to dinner or checking in on them. ¢ Make time to listen, look at pictures - whatever the person may need.

Love appears

Sometimes, they call Woods at her office. Once in a long while, they'll come to her Heart of America Hospice center in Topeka.

But, more often than not, Woods meets them at home, at Christmastime.

They show her things they surround themselves with. They are, Woods said, the things that allow their loved ones to be with them, even when they are gone. Photos, Woods said, "always the photos."

The love appears in different ways, Woods said. Holiday meals always come up, she said, because food is what families socialize around.

When a loved one dies, though, sometimes old family traditions and recipes die with them.

"They're too in pain," Woods said. "They just don't want to do it."

How much she remembered

"If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever."

The words sit by a picture of Nancy Taylor's parents in her home, up on the mantle near her fireplace.

Around the holidays, Taylor said the words mean so much more.

Her mother died last November, her father just a few years before. Now, all Taylor has to remember of her parents are those words, the photos, the snowman and the nativity scene hanging from the tree.

But the ham sandwiches are gone.

They weren't much, just ham and Swiss, but every Christmas Eve after late church services, her mother would put out a tray of them. It was tradition, all she knew as a child.

"It's like it wasn't Christmas Eve if you didn't have them," Taylor said.

Home for Christmas

When her husband, Henry, was still alive, Wigington always loved Christmas. She was an only child, and her parents made the holiday a big deal. Once married, Henry played along.

But Wigington said her husband, while with the Air Force, always seemed to be overseas or at a base when the holidays came around. So she grew used to traveling to see him, wherever he was.

Her home, she said, became wherever her husband was.

"Home is where the person who completes you is," Wigington said.

So now, she said, it doesn't matter where she is, whether it's Grand Rapids, Mich., or Lawrence.

She still can't go home for Christmas.


Buggie7 11 years, 2 months ago

Merry Christmas Daddy!!!! Donald L. Wright went to be with jesus on January 9th, 2004. Christmas will never be the same again. We all love you very much and there isnt a day that goes by that you are not on our minds.

metoo 11 years, 2 months ago

It is lonely.But try to remember when we were not without them.Feel lucky for what you had and shared.

Kat Christian 11 years, 2 months ago

Growing up and through most of my adult years my family got together for Christmas all 22 of us. 3 generations. Then my sister passed 10 years ago, my mother 3 years and my other sister 1+ years. I have another sister w/alzheimer and we may not have her much longer. But I do have one sister remaining, but she lives 1,200 miles away. So I've been alone for the past 9 Christmases, since I moved here to Lawrence. I also lost my finance' in Viet Nam on Jan 1. So this holiday brings me many painful memories. But life is to be lived and we must press on and make the best of it. My first few Christmases alone I offered my time to someone as lonely as I was (mostly elderly) and it helped, because this is the true meaning of Christmas. Not the presents, the family gatherings or even the ham sandwiches as much as we like the tradition. Since then I've still been alone for the holidays, but now I have my grandson and we've make Christmas a special holiday now even though I still miss my mother, sister & finance so much. It's like the story of Job when God took everything away, Job stayed steadfast in his belief in God and in time God replenished what Job had but in two-fold. Bless all of you this season and may it renew your souls with the real meaning of Christmas.

KansasKel 11 years, 2 months ago

Losing a loved one changes everything forever. We're celebrating without four people this year that will be forever missed...Elwood & Dorothy Wiggins, Bill Estes, and Bob Johnson. Christmas isn't the same without them.

Kelly Powell 11 years, 2 months ago

If they didn't shove christmas down our throats damn near three months before the event i bet it would ease depression.....The winter holidays were designed to keep peoples spirits up during the gloomy times(and because there was not much to do back then after the crops were put up then to wait until spring) ....and in Europe there were many, many small holidays...not one grand day....It allowed people to blow off steam gradually.

JayCat_67 11 years, 2 months ago

Anymore, I just feel a tremendous sense of loss during Christmas. In part because my grandparents have passed during the past 6 years, but even before that, the sense of wonder and excitement that I felt when I was younger was long gone. I guess part of that comes with the responsibilities and worries you acquire as you get older, but Rednekbuddha has it right; when I see the cutesy little Christmas ads and their ripped off jingles on TV so early I just want to puke. And I know it's not the Halloween candy, 'cause I haven't even taken the kids out trick or treating yet, d@mmit! Whether you're religious or not, there used to be a sort of spiritual peace that came with Christmas that just isn't there anymore.

Christine Anderson 11 years, 2 months ago

Thank You, redneckbuddha. I've felt the same way since the day after Halloween. That's when the stores had all the Christmas decorations up, and something inside began to ache again. I suppose I'm being selfish feeling this way. After all, it's been three years now since my Dad died ( Nov.7th). I have three great kids to love and who love me back. There's just this horrible loss which didn't even occur at Christmas, and yet somehow, right now the pain is unbearable. Three years ago, I had run into an "old friend" whom I hadn't seen in 16 years. We started dating again, and the man was talking about eventuallty marrying me. This guy was Mr. church deacon, Mr. well-respected, Mr. VBS teacher, etc,etc. Well, he had a friend who suddenly had an immigration emergency. Without telling me, he married this Nigerian woman on paper to keep the little sweetie from being deported. Oh my God.... that was May of 2004, and I can still barely keep my head on straight. There is no antidepressant strong enough to cure that. The schmuck has never apologized. Now, at this time of the year, I feel like I have to be "on", when all I really want to do is eat a couple of Darvocets and take a nice, long nap. You know; just enough so I wouldn't have to feel it for a few hours. It's not that I'm not grateful that Jesus was born; I am. I don't hate His birthday, I just hate Christmas! ( Besides, Jesus was most likely born in late July or August. Israel does NOT graze sheep in the fields in late December.) JayCat also has an excellent point. I'm "supposed" to feel this peace right now, and he's right. It's just getting harder and harder to find.

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