Grief And The Holidays
The holidays are a time of happiness and joy, right? It’s the time to be with friends and family to give thanks for God’s blessings and celebrate Christ’s birth. But what if you’ve just suffered the death of a spouse, child, parent, close relative, or friend? Celebrations where you’re expected to be happy and have pleasant interactions are things you’d rather avoid. You’re sad and hurting, and the holidays are making your sadness and pain intensify as memories come flooding in of that loved one who is no longer present, or of the way things were before your world fell apart. How can you handle your grief during the holidays?
Let Some Things Go If You Need To
Every year, you put decorations out for Fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with yard decorations, lights on the house, holiday décor inside, a beautiful Christmas tree with carefully wrapped gifts underneath, and holiday cards sent to friends and family. You attend holiday parties and events themed around the holidays. But right now, those are the last things you feel like doing. The thought of putting up decorations as though this was a happy time, as though you’re celebrating…it just feels wrong. Listen, it’s okay to leave the decorations in the attic this year. The world won’t end if you don’t answer the door for the trick-or-treaters, don’t have lights on your house, blow-up figures in your yard, a perfect Thanksgiving, a beautiful Christmas tree with brightly wrapped gifts underneath, and holiday cards sent to everyone you know. You also don’t have to go to holiday parties or events if you don’t want to. No one will unfriend you for letting those things go this year.
Share The Load
If you do decide to try to do a few minimal things during the holidays, you don’t have to shoulder it all by yourself. Even if you do the minimum, the holidays still have plenty of “hustle and bustle.” Why not ask a family member or friend to help you with gift purchases, wrapping, decorating, cooking, etc. In fact, reaching out to others is a good idea because it will keep you from isolating yourself, which only feeds your feelings of sadness. I think about the story in Exodus 18 of Moses taking the whole task of judging and leading Israel on himself, wearing him and the people out. His father-in-law gave great advice to share the load and enlist others to help. That’s advice you should also take, especially when you’re overwhelmed with grief. You don’t have to do it all. Share the load.
Keep The Traditions That Are Important To You
While you may wish to skip some holiday traditions, there are some traditions that may be important to keep because they keep you connected to your loved one. They are the traditions that awaken fond memories that actually bring comfort to your soul and warmth to your heart. Maybe it’s preparing a certain food or dessert that was special to him or her, listening to certain holiday music, watching a special holiday movie, or attending a Christmas Eve carols and candles service. Keeping some of those core traditions can help you cope with your grief during this season.
Start Some New Traditions
If some of your usual traditions are too painful this year, try starting some new traditions. New traditions can help you start creating new memories and a new “normal.” Doing things in a totally or somewhat different way can lessen the pain of spending the holidays without your loved one. And the new traditions may become just as important to you as the old ones were.
Let Yourself Grieve
Grief is hard, but it’s especially hard during the holidays. Seeing a certain ornament, tasting a certain food, hearing a certain song, or seeing certain relatives will suddenly stir up strong emotions. When this happens, let yourself feel those emotions. Slow down and let them wash over you. God created us as feeling beings, and it’s okay to feel what you feel. Your tendency will be to push your emotions down so that you don’t feel the pain, but that’s not healthy. Even Jesus wept when His friend Lazarus died (and He knew that He was about to raise Him from the dead). You need to process your feelings, but the only way to do that is to feel them. So, when the grief comes (and it will), let yourself sit with it. By the way, it's also okay to be happy or laugh. You may find yourself chuckling at a funny memory of your loved one, or feeling a smile come across your face when you see your grandchild. You might initially think that you are doing something wrong. You’re not. It doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one. It means that you are still alive. Let yourself feel what you feel, good or bad. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The only thing wrong is to not grieve.
Honor The One You Lost
Whatever else you do during the holiday, find a way to honor the person that you lost. Maybe you can set a place at the table for them, send gifts in their name, make a donation to a charity they believed in. Some churches and funeral homes hold special holiday remembrance services where you can put a personalized ornament on the Christmas tree for your loved one.
Seek Grief Support
Grief support is something that pastors and professional Christian counselors excel at. Many churches have grief support groups that you can join. At Christian Counseling Associates, we offer grief counseling year-round, and see an increase in clients seeking it during the holidays. We would welcome the opportunity to sit with you and walk through your grief together.
If you have lost a loved one and are struggling during the holidays, I encourage you to read more about grief counseling, and then reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates for a free consultation to get you started in grief counseling.
Ruby Pappachen is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a trained EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapist. She also specializes in grief counseling.