Most of the breakfast guests had already left. We had served more than a hundred and fifty people that morning. The regulars know they can get a hot meal, have coffee, and find a place to get off the streets for an hour or so.

Our volunteer crew was working to finish clean-up duties when one of the guests approached two of us while we wiped tables. The man stopped a few feet away and offered what he had to give – his simple thanks. Taking in my “Cat People” ball cap he added a joke.
“Did you hear about the cat that ate a ball of yarn?”
“She had mittens.”
We smiled and the three of us chatted for a minute. Then a staff member at the door called to the guest that it was nearly time to go, the center was about to close.

“Well, have a great day,” my co-worker said. Hearing this simple send off the man’s smile disappeared, revealing his reality. There was little likelihood he’d have a great day. He struggled to maintain composure, prompting me to ask as gently as I could, “What is it?”

He hesitated, then said softly, “I never thought I’d be homeless.”

We looked into each other’s eyes. His particular misery was beyond my experience though I understood how tragic events can compound and crush a life. “I’m so sorry,” I said. Wanting to offer comfort I added, “Can I pray for you? Right now?” He nodded. We stood there while I prayed that God’s courage and strength would be renewed in this man’s life. When I finished, the person by the door called again, more insistent this time. The guest turned and left, his shoulders curled forward around his heart. I envisioned his depleted hope trailing behind him on the floor like a ragged piece of balloon being dragged by a dirty string.

In the days since, I have pondered this encounter and the pain, sadness, and discouragement of being homeless. It occurred to me that each of us ought to consider two things. First, how we would respond to being in desperate circumstances and second, how we would want others to respond to us when we were.

A sobering reality is that at some point in life most of us will have a gut wrenching realization tucked into our hearts too. “I never thought I’d be _______.” We’ll fill in the blank with our own tragedy: the death of a loved one or finding ourselves divorced, widowed, bankrupt, a cancer patient, infertile, unemployed, disabled, a crime victim, in jail, a single mom, or an addict. The list goes on.

When someone undergoes any type of trial, grief is typically part of the experience. They grieve for who or what was lost or taken from them: a home, a spouse, a friend, a job, good health, their sense of security. Part of the work of grief involves learning to cope with their new and devastating reality. Unfortunately, this phase of grief is not once and done. As seasons change or different situations occur, new shoals of loss become visible.

One difficulty in managing grief is that the landscape keeps changing. With each Regardless of your abilities or resources, however, to the extent you can it’s important to be proactive before the holidays arrive. The idea is to think ahead and maybe even make a list of what might help distract you or get you through. Starting early also helps you feel a little more in control rather than allowing the holiday blues to mow you down and add to your grief.

Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking:

Make (or buy) something that you can share with others. Baking cookies is my own go to. Helping or giving to others is a proven way to lift your own spirits.

Decide to visit a new coffee shop or local attraction you’ve never seen.

Challenge yourself to complete a classic book or two you’ve never read.

Have a holiday movie night, alone or with a few friends or neighbors.

Consider participating in your faith tradition’s celebration or attending services. Most have special events or need volunteers during December. Check their websites to see what might work for you.

If you are grieving the loss of a person, perhaps you want to plan a special remembrance in their memory. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be deliberate and meaningful if you give it thought. Ask family members or friends to participate or offer their ideas.

We cannot rush the process of how we or anyone else heals from suffering. We can, however, acknowledge our own and other people’s struggles with loss. We can remind ourselves that enduring grief and loss do not set us apart, they confirm that we are human. Knowing this, we can also hold onto the belief that the human spirit is capable of astonishing comebacks and that each of us has that same capacity within ourselves. Now may be a season of healing and rest. May you hold onto the hope that new seasons will follow in due time.