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Writing and Grief: A Shift from Self to Other
From John Allen: August 2006

Christmas is usually thought of as a season of joy. But for all-too-many people is associated with person loss and tragedy.

I knew a lady whose son —- a sensitive and troubled young man -— had committed suicide during the Christmas holidays. For her Christmas was always a melancholy season.

Another acquaintance of mine had taken his daughters to a school Christmas program. It was a wonderful night of songs and the spoken word. After the program, they walked in the parking lot searching for their car -- a job made difficult by not only the darkness, but also a thick, foggy mist. Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, a car struck down the two girls. The car had not been going fast, but still the girls received serious injuries. One daughter survived, the other died. Besides being a tragedy for the family of the two girls, it was a tragedy for the young woman driving the car. She was an exceptional student —- on the honor role -— who had never been in any kind of trouble. She had not been driving recklessly; she simple did not see the girls due to the fog.

While we were living in a small town, we became acquainted with two brothers. They were wonderful young men who had a zest for life and never spoke an unkind word. A week before Christmas, on a Sunday morning, they were traveling to a church service where they were going to sing as part of a quartet. Their car hit an icy spot and went into a river which ran parallel to the road. The boys were drowned.

Their family's response was remarkable. They had a strong faith that the boys had gone to a better place and that they would see them again.

The parents had a strong belief in service. Rather than becoming bitter, they stayed strong and continued performing acts of service and kindness just as they always had.

As I observed the parents coping with a tragedy that would sent me into paralyzing depression and despair, I learned something valuable: the way to cope with grief is to serve -— to think of others. And in so doing, you begin to focus on things other than your profound pain.

And that is when my story, “Christmas Gifts, Christmas Voices,” began to form in my mind. My personal musing on the effect grief and tragedy has on people is expressed in Christmas Gifts, Christmas Voices by the character Brent Watkins.

The idea, I believe, in coping with grief is to shift the focus from self to others. Whenever I am feeling depresses, I try to think of others who are going through far more difficulties than I am. I know a woman who went through a divorce, lost her home, and was in a terrible car accident that left her paralyzed —- all in the space of a two year period. Whenever I feel that things are rough for me, I think of her, and I suddenly feel ashamed.

And believe it or not, this woman always has a smile on her face. I’ve spoken with her sons, and they tell me that she is always looking for ways to make other people happy.

What an example of thinking of others rather than dwelling on yourself and your problems.

In my book, Eric has just experienced through a devastating loss. And yet somehow, he thinks of others, and spends Christmas eve performing small acts of kindness.

It isn’t until several years later that Eric learns the impact of his actions that night. But when he does find out the impact for good he has had on others, he feels truly fulfilled.

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