Art doesn’t have to be sophisticated, realistic, or “good” to have value. Self-expression, in any form, can be healing. In good times and bad, we can always create something. Art is a form of communication — with ourselves and others.
Last year at this time, my Mom was not well. My sister and I were alternating staying overnight with her, and an angel caregiver named Michele was watching over her by day. Anticipation was running high for us all, but it wasn’t the joyful type usually associated with the holidays.
Even if you’ve never heard the term “anticipatory grief,” you’ve probably experienced it. It is the gut-punch of sadness that precedes loss — of a loved one, a job, a relationship, an ailing pet, virtually anything that means a lot to us.
Like all grief, it’s an internal ache that no one sees. And talking about it, especially during the holidays, makes people squirm, smile politely, and scurry back to their merrymaking as quickly as possible.
This reaction is understandable, of course, albeit unfortunate, since lots of our fellow Clark Countians suffer silently through the holidays.
No one wants to be sad, worried, or scared at Christmas. But many people are. We do ourselves and our community a grave disservice if we fail to acknowledge this fact and don’t respond with compassionate action.
If someone you know is suffering, please don’t avoid them. Instead, look them in the eye, ask how they’re doing, and listen to what they say. Let them speak freely, without interrupting to ask questions or finish their sentences. Resist the urge to change the subject, check your phone, or look at your watch. And please, don’t begin any sentence with, “Well, at least…”
If you’re at a loss for words, as are many of us in such situations, a simple “I’m sorry” goes a very long way. If the conversation gets too deep or you fear for the person’s safety/emotional well-being, encourage and help them to seek professional help (see three local resources below). We are fortunate to have these agencies right here in town.
Grief, illness, poverty, and death don’t take off during the holidays, so finding a way to cope is essential. For me, it’s making art and eating chocolate. For you, it’s likely something else. What it is doesn’t matter, as long as it helps.
Just before Thanksgiving 2020, my Mom’s doctors recommended we contact Hospice sooner rather than later. That news was upsetting and unexpected. After we got her settled at home and made the call, I reached for my watercolors, feeling utterly helpless and child-like. Words often fail me, but my paintbrush rarely does.
Two days after Christmas, she had a small stroke. The day after New Year’s, she had a bigger one. Four days later, she was gone.
So this is my first Christmas without her, and it’s… strange. I’m 63 years old, yet some days I feel more like nine. Yesterday, when I went to the cemetery to put the Christmas wreath on Dad’s grave, for the first time ever, I was putting it on Mom’s grave, too. Christmas will never be the same. And neither will I.
But that’s OK. I’m OK. I’m certainly not the only person who’s lost a loved one this year. Covid-19 alone has claimed over 9,000 Kentuckians, and cases are escalating — again.
But life goes on, and so do the holidays. In the coming weeks, let’s remember that while having a Merry Christmas is a common goal, not everyone will achieve it. Taking time out from the holiday bustle to check in with our neighbors — and ourselves — can help.
We all benefit from slowing down and showing we care. Christmas is coming no matter what, and while the calendar is indifferent, we don’t have to be.
If you or someone you know is having difficulty coping this holiday season, help is available from the following agencies. They all have 24-hour helplines and offices that accept walk-ins during weekday operating hours.
Mountain Comprehensive Care Center
114 S. Maple St.
Walk-in Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
24-hour helpline: (800) 422‑1060
325 Professional Ave.
Walk-in Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
24-hour helpline: (800) 928‑8000
407 Shoppers Dr.
24-hour helpline/office number: (859) 744‑9866
Walk-in Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.