Everyone knows that grief is a process that everyone goes through in response to loss — or even anticipated loss. That loss can come in many forms. Most often, however, we think of it in terms of the death of loved ones.
This past Sunday, my church held a “Hanging of the Green” service in which members participated in decorating the worship center for the Christmas season. We lit candles, decorated trees, and hung wreaths. We also did something else that is common in many churches: members were able to place a poinsettia in the worship center in honor or memory of a friend or family member. That got me thinking about how much grief impacts people during the holidays.
Yesterday I talked about my own memory of my grandmother. I am actually quite experienced in dealing with grief, from a professional — and personal — perspective, having lost a number of family members through the years. As 2007 draws to a close, I can think of a handful of people I know who have lost loved ones.
It seems that the holidays always exacerbate feelings of grief and loss. It’s amazing how many things can trigger memories of loved ones. If you have experienced loss this year, here are just a few things to be mindful of as you approach Christmas:
- Emotions are frequently more intense at this time of year. Adjusting to life without your loved one can be a challenging task. Having that empty space at the holiday dinner table, or that extra room under your tree, can make for a difficult time. Expect the emotions to come and go. Take time to experience them; don’t stifle them. You may do well to set aside some time specifically for experiencing these emotions — a scheduled “cry time,” if you will (maybe even 30 minutes a day, if needed).
- Don’t expect people to acknowledge your loss. Just count it as a special gift when they do. Everyone is so busy during the holidays. In spite of the selfless gift God gave through baby Jesus, the Christmas season itself can become very self-focused, if we’re not careful. Maybe it’s been several months since your loss. While it’s still fresh on your heart and mind, others have moved on, which can leave you feeling even more isolated and detached.
- Stay connected to the people you love. It is common for people to slip into a pattern of isolation following loss — especially during the holidays. Recognizing the fact that the world has kept spinning in spite of your pain may seem more that you can bear. Find someone that you can share your heart with. Find a buddy to have coffee with, or go shopping with, or take in a holiday concert — knowing full well that even each of those experiences will likely bring about memories of time spent with your loved one.
- Realize that some people probably haven’t heard of your loss. As Christmas cards and letters begin to arrive, you may be puzzled to see handwritten envelopes addressed to your deceased spouse or other family member. Even in our best efforts to communicate the news of loss to people, there are invariably those who, for whatever reason, do not get our message. These cards can be like pouring salt into an open wound, each one reminding you of the emptiness deep inside. Rather than focusing on the loss, do your best to shift your focus to how loved the person was. And, even in your loss, choose to be gracious to those who do not know.
Realize that, just like the poinsettias in the photo above, you are not alone. Many people have experienced loss this year, and though the pain is fresh and real and raw, you will be able to get through it.
Remember to maintain proper self-care through the holiday season. During a time when schedules can get crazy real fast, make a special point to get good rest, nutrition, and exercise. In fact, that can be the gift you give yourself this year.
If you are grieving this holiday season, may God grant you a special sense of His presence and peace.