- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The holiday spending spree is in full swing, but if you've got to give to the gills, give of your time.
I hate to keep harping on it in these tenuous times, but please make the most of the precious present of time. Spend widely and wisely the sacred moments you must make for the ones you love.
The older I get, the more I realize that we never know when we are seeing someone we love for the very last time. Death, we now know, is becoming more a part of living. Who among us did not learn this valuable lesson during the sniper attacks that immobilized the metropolitan region this fall? Outside of those extraordinary times and circumstances, many others have passed on this year. Just this week, I told a dear friend that I didn't want us to become part of the macabre crowd that visits with each other only at funerals and memorial services.
This weekend alone, I attended the memorial service for a beloved Metro editor at The Washington Times, Hank Pearson, and a beloved community and church activist "sister," Madeline Petty McCullough. Sunday, my children's grandmother, Verdella "Gramma" Washington to whom I will be forever deeply indebted also succumbed to a long illness.
Last month, Washingtonians laid to rest longtime broadcaster Ernest White, who spearheaded the mentoring movement here. Later this month, we will undoubtedly celebrate the wild, wacky life of another dear friend, Daisy Voigt, who wrote a letter to the drug dealers on her block that caused them to take their wares elsewhere. Lately I felt that maybe I know too many people or too many people I know are dying. Or both. But I've lost a lot of friends and family this year with whom I wish I could spend just one more moment.
Brightly wrapped Christmas presents can be quickly forgotten. But a few moments spent with friends and loved ones last a lifetime. The first Christmas you spend without a mother or child or special sibling can send you into a tearful tizzy. The site of loving couples kissing under the mistletoe can be too painful to bear if you have lost that special someone. Dawn M. Higgins, a psychotherapist and author of "The Language of Loss," offers helpful hints to get through the holidays.
Contrary to many who offer solace, Ms. Higgins tells people they should not be afraid to cry and cry often. And, when you see someone crying don't offer them a tissue because it signals that you are uncomfortable and suggesting that it's time for them to pull themselves together.
One interesting suggestion besides keeping a journal or taking up a physical activity, such as yoga, is to find a private place to grieve. Just off North Capitol and Taylor streets NW, in the Rock Creek Cemetery, serenely sits the Adams Memorial statue "Grief," so named by Mark Twain. It is my personal favorite.
Ms. Higgins also suggests that bringing something green, preferably with a scent, into your home is also good medicine for grieving adults. She pointed out that in ancient times the tradition of decorating evergreens started during the winter solstice to symbolize something living. The living plants brought folks out of their doldrums caused by dark, shorter days and everything outside dying all around them.
Most important, Ms. Higgins suggests gaining comfort from a spiritual activity that brings you closest to nature or "whatever faith we have." Don't feel ashamed to seek counseling if you feel your holiday grief is gripping to the point of immobilizing you.
If you ever feel lonely, just go to any church. There is practically one on every corner in the District.
Yesterday, Ms. McCullough's memorial service at Zion Baptist Church in Northwest was attended by at least 500 people from all ethnic, economic, social and religious backgrounds. The minister guessed that each person could have gotten up and told a personal story about this remarkable woman who made a significant impact on housing and community development in the District for more than two decades.
He was absolutely right. I know I have a few gems of my own to tell about "my sister" as she was known to address the women in the numerous charity and civic organizations to which she was dedicated.
For his part, her minister suggested that the best way to honor a deceased loved one is to get up, dress up, move on and go out and do the work that God has left us behind to do.
That's good advice, but the effort takes lots more time than money. Truth be told, time is also more appreciated. After all, "That's What Friends Are For" was the theme song of the Leadership Washington class of which Madeline and I were members.
Not everybody can be there for everyone. But you never forget those who do what they can. For at the end of your dying days, I've witnessed that all folks really care about is their friends and family who are at their side to make sure that their bottom is dry but their throat is not.
I will never forget how our Hank, as scruffy an old-school newspaperman as ever lived, squeezed my hand to say, "Thank you," because he knew exactly what I meant when I remarked about the precious present of time spent with friends as we watched reporter Denise Barnes in a tizzy, trying to find him fresh ice for the bottled watermelon-flavored water he'd requested.
Yes, things change. Yes, people come and go. But love and friendship remain.
Please, remember to give the gift of time this holiday season.

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