remember (v): to bring to mind or think of again; to retain in the memory
“Remembering is hard,” Pastor Preston said in his sermon a few weeks ago. It’s a truth borne out not only by the anecdotes of his own forgetfulness; most of us have at least occasional lapses of memory, brought to our attention by the officer who tickets us for our expired auto registration, or the friend who calls to say she’s been waiting fifteen minutes already at the meeting place we agreed on last Friday. We remember, right after the smoke alarm goes off, that the cookies need to come out of the oven; we’re jolted from near sleep when we realize, as we check off the accomplishments of the day, that we forgot to send our mother-in-law a birthday card.
Ann Voskamp, in One Thousand Gifts, muses that ‘remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving, this turn of the heart over time’s shoulder to see all the long way His arms have carried us.’ This is the kind of remembering Preston wanted to direct us toward that Sunday before Thanksgiving; the practice of being mindful, of remembering how many things we forget to say ‘thank you’ for throughout the year, throughout our lives. It is good to be exhorted to recall with gratitude the many blessings we so often fail to count.
But for many people, remembering is hard in a different way, more pronouncedly during the holidays than at other times of year. The problem for them is not that they don’t remember – it’s that they do, in stark, vivid detail. In their minds, images of happy families gathering on the television screen are overwritten with mental home movies of domestic dysfunction; displays of abundance are reminders of lack; cheery music is drowned out by the roar of hurtful words whose echoes never fade.
I’ve spent more than one Christmas season in the depths of depression myself; yet, even with my experience there, I can’t give an authoritative answer to the question of how to help someone for whom this time of year is tough. One size doesn’t fit all.
Going out with friends may be uplifting for one person, while it’s just too much effort for another. ‘Retail therapy’ might feel like a trip directly through Hell for some. Being welcomed to a boisterous Christmas party could revitalize others. The bright, jingly songs that make one feel better may make another want to scream.
Practical assistance is valuable in some cases. Taking someone’s car to get the oil changed could shorten his impossible to-do list enough to give him a little breathing space. An overwhelmed mother might be more grateful than you can imagine if you would take her kids to see Santa along with yours.
Emotional support is sometimes more important. Talking through old hurts with a sympathetic listener is often a necessary step toward healing, as is feeling safe enough with someone to share secret fears and hidden shame. An answering voice on the phone at 2:00 a.m. can be a very real lifeline.
In the end, I think it all comes down to presence. It can probably never be said enough times: the assurance that you are not alone somehow makes just about anything more bearable. If you know someone who is struggling this season, making yourself available – really, truly, physically and emotionally available – to them, in whatever capacity they need, may well be the gift that gets them through.