Life changes forever when a loved one dies. But holidays continue to come. While it is supposed to be a time of giving thanks there are many people who are in a place where they may find it difficult to find a reason to give thanks. If you’re asking, “How can we celebrate in the midst of this pain?” know that it’s not only possible, it’s necessary.
Learn from a woman who shared this story with me: My teenage daughter died in 1993, and my husband lost his battle with cancer in November 2000. But I have four sons who still need to experience the joy celebration brings. Together we have learned to grieve, while at the same time grasping onto the hope God gives.
The following can help if you’re experiencing hurt during the holidays:
1. Give yourself permission to grieve. The holiday season, Thanksgiving until the New Year, with its emphasis on celebration and family, intensifies emotions of every kind. A significant factor in moving on is allowing yourself freedom to express emotions. Children especially should be encouraged to acknowledge hurt.
Examples: A woman named Tammy Pitre’s lost both her preschool son and husband within the past five years. She found strength in giving herself permission to grieve [and] not trying to do what everyone expected her to do. She did only what she felt she was capable of doing.”
Meg Woodson understood. She lost two children to cystic fibrosis. In her book, Making It Through the Toughest Days of Grief (Zondervan), she writes, “You’ll begin to reconcile yourself to your loss … when you begin to feel your sadness.”
2. Embrace your memories. You can give voice to loss and pain in many ways. A woman named Stephanie Harris lost her sister, Amber, who was in her early 20s. Stephanie expressed her grief by journaling. “I have written in my journal a lot, not just general journaling, but letters to Amber.” On her birthday and Christmas especially, she has written her letters telling her what everyone is doing.”
A man named Chip Bryant remembers his father by going to the grave site, looking at old photos, and speaking of him during holidays. “I don’t exclude his memory; I embrace it,” he explains.
3. Reach out. Grieving alone is not God’s plan for the body of Christ. We are to “weep with those who weep” and allow others to extend support to us (Romans 12:15). We should be sensitive to the fact that holidays are hard for those who have lost someone dear to them, especially to those spending their first Thanksgiving [or] Christmas … without their loved one.
4. Continue established traditions. One of the greatest struggles of celebrating in the midst of grief is facing change. The empty chair and Christmas stocking or attending a party alone may bring reminders of loss. You can often find comfort in continuing family traditions.
5. Create new traditions. Many families find comfort and purpose in establishing new traditions in honor of their loved one. One woman found this option very valuable after the loss of her husband; her and her sons began asking God to show us opportunities to extend secret kindnesses in memory of their loved one. They share these at Christmas as their gift to him. Another family has found it comforting to contribute to international mission trips as a way to make new memories. Serving can also be a way to move forward and find new joy. Reaching out to others who are in pain can help give worth to your pain.
6. Pray for yourself and others. Cry to God for strength, comfort, and direction during the holidays. And take time to worship and thank Him that His Son “became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Then pray for others. From the perspective of our pain, we can identify with the pain of others. Intercessory prayer can be the catalyst for our own healing.
7. Hold onto God’s promises. Our Heavenly Father is the God of all comfort. His Word is our anchor in the darkness of loss, loneliness, and pain. As believers, we can model our hope even while acknowledging our grief (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Read Scripture and hold fast to God’s promises. The God who gave The Gift on that first Christmas promises “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4, NIV) and the celebration will never stop (my paraphrase).
That’s the promise to cling to when the holidays hurt.
By Angela Harris