I still remember my daddy's smile. He was never without one. When my daddy was around, my mother was never without a smile either … or her makeup. She never left the house without her makeup pristinely applied. These are beautiful, happy memories I have from when my parents were alive. Although I enjoy these memories, I find myself on holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day trying to avoid the memories a little bit. However, I've learned that I don't have to cringe from these memories. Instead, there's a way for me to celebrate these holidays.
Three years ago, I attended a small group of 20- and 30-somethings. Soon Mother's day rolled around, and as usual, I tried to stay busy that day, trying not to think about the celebrations because I had no mother to celebrate. Even though I tried to think about other things, I still missed her. Knowing my heart, God provided me an unexpected moment on this day in which I could celebrate this day.
On Mother's Day, a woman in my small group walked up to me and handed me a gift. There was no occasion to celebrate, so her gift surprised me. When I opened her card, tears filled my eyes. She expressed that although my mother was no longer here, I could still celebrate the day because my mother had left her legacy: me. When I opened the gift, it was a beautiful saying about a mother and daughter bond and how it could be celebrated in all moments of life. My heart was sad and happy all at once. This woman from my small group knew the day would be difficult for me, but she also saw a reason to celebrate. And she wanted me to join in that celebration of my mother's legacy.
Through this experience and others, I've learned some valuable ways to help others facing loneliness and hurt on difficult holidays.
When group members share losses, take note. Then remember them on key holidays. The woman who gave me the gift not only remembered me on Mother's Day and Father's Day, she also provided a way for me to actually celebrate. You can provide the same. Call group members who have lost a parent on key holidays, provide a small gift, or invite them out for a meal that day. Even if they don't accept your invite, they'll know that you remembered them in the midst of this difficult time.
Talk with Them
One thing that has helped me is talking about my parents. When someone asks me what my mom and dad were like, I really enjoy having the opportunity to talk about them. I appreciate that someone else wants to know about them. Allowing group members the opportunity to celebrate the memory of their parents on Mother's Day or Father's Day is really helpful. Rather than trying to escape the memories, they have the opportunity to embrace them and know someone else cares and wants to know about their loved ones. That said, sometimes talking about a loss can be especially painful and unwelcome. Evaluate whether your group member is emotionally ready to share these memories. Be sensitive, and don't pry. You might gauge where they're at by asking, "How are you doing today? Do you want to talk?"
You know the power a smile or a hug can have even on a normal day. On difficult holidays, they mean even more. Give someone that is hurting a hug or listen to someone share about his or her parents helps. Taking time to empathize and hear them will be a moment for you to share God's love with them.
If you've lost your parents, you can empathize in a deeper way. I've learned that helping others face their hurt on Mother's Day and Father's Day has helped me cope with my own sadness. As 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT) notes, "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others." Consider how you can use your experience to comfort others.
Celebrate with Them
I used to feel that I couldn't celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day because I didn't have any parents to celebrate. My friend, though, taught me that I can celebrate the legacy they've left. I've also learned that I can celebrate the mother and father figures I have in my life, which has become a tradition for me. One Father's Day I sent cards to the father figures in my life, telling them how much they encouraged me and reminded me of the great qualities in my own father. While these men had children of their own, they enjoyed the fact that their fatherly qualities were noticed by others as well.
You can thank the mother and father figures in your life, too, celebrating the people God has placed in your life to lead and guide you. If sending cards doesn't interest you, bake something or take them out to eat.
Mother's and Father's Day may be hard days to endure; however, even in the midst of the sadness, they can also be days of celebration: celebration of memories and of mother and father figures in our lives. Take time to comfort small-group members who have lost a parent, and help them to celebrate.
—Peri Gilbert is Small Group Coordinator at The Simple Church; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.