Ritual for marking a lost year

A friend of mine recently asked, “Has anyone else thought about just starting a new planner because they’ve had to cross so many things out?”. It was half a joke. Half. The last few weeks have not been what anyone planned, and it is unclear how much more will be disrupted by this new normal. Schools in our state were officially closed for the rest of the academic year.  

As I watched that press conference, I thought about my friend’s planner. The greatest struggle right now isn’t that lots of things are canceled or postponed or rearranged. The more significant issue is that we all need to grieve things that are canceled, postponed, or rearranged. What if our now inaccurate planners offer an opportunity to process our emotions and re-imagine what was to be?

This week, try this. Go through your planner or calendar and identify all the things that were canceled or postponed. If you don’t usually keep a planner or written calendar, make a list of these events. (Here’s a PDF chart that might help). Look back a month and ahead a month or two. 

I liked using post-it notes for this next step, but make in a list on a separate sheet of paper or using a new planner works well too. For each event, write down:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? (moment/ event/ detail)
  • Why was it important to you? (feeling/ desire)
  • What markers of the event are still possible?

Looking at those answers, make a plan for how you will mark that day now. This is not a replacement, but a way to honor what is lost. For instance, if you have a child finishing kindergarten, it might go:

  • What were you most looking forward to about this? Taking pictures of them standing on the stage.
  • Why was it important to you? They’ve worked really hard, and I want to celebrate them becoming a “big kid.”
  • What markers of that event are still possible?  Taking pictures, family cheering as their name is announced, making a memory box of their kindergarten stuff, wearing a graduation cap, having a special meal, etc.

Maybe on the day they should have graduated, you’ll get dressed up, do a “red carpet” photo-shoot in your living room, and then look at pictures of things they did in school this year.

The plans don’t have to be elaborate. What is important is that they are intentional. Don’t merely let special days slide by or spend them wishing for what cannot be. You can put the post-it with the plan over the original date in your calendar, or write the plan in a new calendar, or post your list where you will see it and follow through on the plans. As you cover the original, or write out the new one, say a prayer of thanks for all the work that went into your first plan and for what is possible with this new one.

You don’t have to tackle the whole calendar at once. Pick a few things at a time. Create a many missed event rituals as you need. This is a simple way to acknowledge things we can’t do and work through our feelings of loss. It also encourages us to create memories of joy and purpose rather than absence. I hope it helps.

What other ways are coping with pandemic life right now? Put your ideas and brainstorms in the comments.

When Christmas Comes with Sorrow

Tonight will be the longest night of the year (meteorologically in the northern hemisphere).  And for some, these nights close to Christmas are long for more personal reasons.  As the holidays approach all the world fills with carols and lights and joy.  Yet when we wrestle with disease or infirmity, we may not fee like singing.  When we have lost loved ones, the lights can blur behind tears.  When depression weighs us down, joy seems like an emotion for other people.

If the Christmas season is more blue than bright for you, know that you are not alone.  And you are not out of step.  The child born in the manager came to comfort the afflicted, heal the broken, and to conquer every darkness, even death.  In 1930, as shadow gathered in his native Germany, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was visiting Cuba.  While preaching to a German-speaking congregation he said this:

We all come with different personal feelings to Christmas festival. One comes with pure joy as he looks forward to this day of rejoicing, of friendships renewed, and of love…

Others look for a moment of peace under the Christmas tree, peace from the pressures of daily work…

Others again approach Christmas with great apprehension. It will be no festival of joy for them. Personal sorrow is especially painful especially on this day for those whose loneliness is deepened at Christmastime…

And despite it all, Christmas comes. Whether we wish it or not, whether we are sure or not, we must hear the words once again: Christ the Savior is here!

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Havana, Cuba, December 21, 1930

The solstice’s proximity to Christmas ought to remind us that Christ did not come into the best of times and circumstances, but at a difficult time and to the people who needed Him most.  Like St. Augustine, I pray the Lord would keep watch over all who wake or watch or weep in this longest night.  That the saints and angels would tend the sick, rest the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering and stand with the afflicted.  That joy would be a shied for all who celebrate and that all of this would be so for the sake of the Love that is soon to be born.

May God rest ye merry this Christmas.