By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MARTIN — Weslee Hill has counseled people through stressful times in their lives for the past 10 years as the counselor for Weakley County Baptist Association, based in Dresden. She is now putting into practice advice she has been giving to others for the past decade.
Hill has especially walked with despondent clients through holidays including Christmas.
The despondency quite often is dealing with the loss of a loved one, but it can involve a number of things including broken and fractured relationships, Hill said.
“Holidays can create stress for people in general, even those not dealing with grief,” she observed.
Hill noted that holidays are supposed to be “happy, cheerful, and perfect,” much like one would find in a Norman Rockwell painting.
“A lot of people have those expectations but it very rarely winds up that way,” she said.
Hill now can counsel others, having experienced the loss of her mother (Susie Edwards) who died from cancer earlier this year. Edwards served on the staff of the Baptist and Reflector for nearly 30 years.
The first step in dealing with grief, especially the death of a loved one, is to share the memories of that person with others. Be able to talk about what you miss about the person, she advised. Don’t keep it bottled up inside, she stressed.
Hill said one thing that helped her family through their first Thanksgiving holiday without her mother was humor.
“We picked on Mom and talked about the things that she did that cracked us up,” she laughed. “That was healing.”
In particular she recalled that her mother “had a change of dishes for every season. It had to be just right,” she said.
They would joke about “changing out the dishes.” It was not being disrespectful to her memory, she said. Rather it was a way “to honor Mom.”
One thing Hill did that especially helped her was to complete a craft project her mother had started two years ago. She had taken Styrofoam trees and decorated them with green, red, gold, and silver sequins and buttons, but she did not complete the project.
“I found the tree that she had started and decided to finish it because it was important to Mom,” she said. “Then we took a family picture with the tree,” she said, noting that family pictures also were very important to her mother.
For others who are experiencing grief, Hill encouraged them to find humor in what their loved one did. “Realize the person was human and enjoy those special quirks about that person.”
Hill also noted that it is important to not try to “re-create” or do everything the loved one did unless it is something you want to do. She noted her mother was an avid decorator at Christmas, but she and her dad (Mark Edwards, retired minister of music at First Baptist Church, Nashville) are not.
“It’s not that we’re running from it. That was her. You are not betraying the person because you don’t do everything she did,” Hill said.
Trying to re-create memories of a person “will fall short” of expectations and it just won’t be the same, she stressed.
Finally, Hill said that it is okay for families to begin new traditions.
She said through God’s grace that she realized that last Christmas could very well be the last one her family spent with her mother. “I made last year memorable for me and my kids,” she said.
Instead of spending Christmas morning at their home in Martin as they were accustomed to doing, they drove to Nashville so they could spend Christmas Eve with her mother.
“That was my gift to her. We sang around the piano and Mom was Mom.
“For that I’m so very thankful. It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten.”
This year will be different, she acknowledged, noting they will not be in Nashville this year. “Things won’t be the same every year.”
Make new traditions, but be sure to communicate with everyone involved, she suggested.
“Grief is an individual thing and there is no right or wrong way to grieve,” Hill said.
Hill shared three tips for getting through stress-filled holidays, whether it is grief-related or not.
•Balance expectations with reality and communicate with others involved. Accept that it might not be a picture perfect ending, she said.
•Have a stress reliever. For Hill it is running. She completed a half-marathon on Dec. 5. Find an outlet for that stress, she said.
“Don’t take it out on the family.”
•Afford people grace. Remember that everyone has expectations and they may be different from yours. Compromise when possible and try to accommodate others.
Most importantly, she said, “give people grace when they get cranky.”