‘Christmas is not so much about opening presents as it is about opening our hearts.’ Janice Maeditere
Out of all of the firsts during a season of grief, I think Christmas is one of the most difficult times. I wanted to give homage to this truth this year because I know a lot of families experiencing a lot of Christmas firsts without their loved ones around. My footprints have been there after my divorce and the loss of my Mom so I am sensitive to this subject for others. The season really creates a dichotomy of emotions for those going through this valley as it is usually a trigger for those hurts and loss. If you are a Christian and you celebrate the real reason for Christmas, there is the joy in the truth that Jesus came to earth as a baby, to be God with us and be the Saviour for our sins. On the other side of that is deep grief and sadness in your loss and you may have trouble reconciling those emotions especially while many are expecting you to display the joy or excitement of Christmas.
Here are some of the ways that I coped during this season and others that I have read as I have studied grief and how people cope during loss.
- Be honest with your emotions and to those around you. Sometimes this means just being with those that will understand where you are at and accept that in you. Other times it will take a gentle reminder that you are still in the throes of grieving. Acknowledging the holidays will be difficult but it sometimes frees us to grieve easier.
- Start a new tradition. Doing something new with others starts a fresh memory to ease the pain of old ones.
- Continue with old traditions and customs. My Mom used to make and decorate sugar cookies with us every year and for me that was a comfort to carry on this tradition.
- Create an exit strategy. Go to someone elses home for celebrations but take a separate vehicle or set a boundary with your time so that if things get to intense for you, you can leave.
- Let your emotions out. Cry if you need to, tears are healing. I know I tried to prepare and be ready ahead of time by going through all kinds of scenarios and imagining what things would feel like. I really had no idea and in essence with all my preparing, I actually walked through some of the emotions before and was able to be more present during Christmas.
- Find a grief group, pastor or counselor. This was an imperative part of my healing process. I attended a suicide survivor group for a few months and besides helping me to process some of these raw emotions, I realized I was not alone in my grief.
- Volunteer your time. There is great relief in getting out of your head and emotions by helping other people. The needs are always great but Christmas also highlights opportunities for people to give back. Help out with a cause that was close to your loved ones heart.
- Write a letter to your loved one. This can be ongoing as things come to you but it is very healing to write your words and emotions to them, perhaps expressing things you didn’t have a chance to share with them before they died. Forgive them and ask for their forgiveness if you need to, then ask Jesus for the same thing.
- Practice self-care. Sleep lots, eat and drink in moderation. Share your feelings with a trusted confidante. Go for long walks. Do something you love. Light a candle for your loved one and pray.
- Don’t feel guilty. Everyone grieves differently even within the same family. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by seemingly ‘normal’ activities. It is ok to say no. It is ok to feel joy and be happy in the midst of grief. Feel your feelings. Grief has no time limit, listen to your heart, not everyone’s advice to move on or get over it.
- Do something in memory of your loved one. We planted a tree when it was warmer. Make or buy an ornament. Have a memory box that everyone can share favorite memories and pick a time to share them together. Donate to a cause your loved one believed in.
Remember especially in this Christmas season, the babe born in the manger. He came to bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, to be close to the brokenhearted, to bring healing to the wounded hearts. I don’t know how I would have survived without my faith and those standing beside me. Go to God with your grief, He knows all about it and He is waiting to comfort your heart.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6