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Grief At Christmas

December 16, 2019
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Grief makes holidays hard. Anniversaries and traditional family gathering times are bitter-sweet when you’re grieving the loss of one you love. More bitter than sweet, sometimes.

Christmas may be the hardest of the holidays for lots of people who are in grief. Even if they weren’t grieving, Christmas would probably be the most emotion-loaded holiday of the year. There’s so much sentimentality in it. I think there probably should be. God becoming a helpless baby in a feed trough, with a teenage mother and an a totally inexperienced dad looking on ought to evoke some emotion.

Add in all the movies that have Christmas as their theme or in their plot, and the emotional weight grows and doubles or triples. Hallmark has a corner on the market for this.

Don’t leave out the Christmas carols and songs that paint vivid, usually emotional pictures in our minds.

Include the commercials that leverage Christmas and Christmas emotion, and the scales measuring emotional weight are pegged out.

With Christmas carrying such emotional weight, moving through it as part of a grief journey is incredibly difficult. I can understand why some people just want to disappear around December 15 and come back after New Year’s Day. It would be nice to not have to face the double-whammy of grief and Yuletide emotion.

I’m not an authority on grief. I’m just a fellow-traveler on the long and winding grief road. I don’t have a simple system for bracing yourself against the inevitable emotion of Christmas grief. No guarantee for the best way to cope.

What I have are just a few common-sense observations that might help you make it through this season.

First, making it through this season is a legitimate goal. You don’t need to get through it as a picture of grace and dignity and faith. You don’t need to do December so well that you’ll be asked to do workshops on coping with grief in December. All you need to do is get through it. Really. Just get through it. So set your sights on this as your objective. Turn loose of higher goals. They’re unrealistic, especially if your loss is recent. Ask God to give you grace to get through it, and then partner with Him one step at a time.

The second thing is harder. Embrace your emotions. Are you kidding? Embrace feelings I’m trying not to be ambushed and humiliated by? You must be kidding. You’re an idiot

Yep. I get that. This is hard. But it’s also healthy. Your emotions are going to be close to the surface if your loss is recent. Pushing them away seems like the smartest thing to do. You don’t want to spend all 12 Days of Christmas crying your eyes out and going through tissues by the case. I don’t want you to. I want you to acknowledge and own your emotions, though. Because if you don’t, they’ll ambush you with unimaginable force. Denied feelings don’t cease to exist. And you can’t assassinate them. They’ll come back at the worst possible, most socially inconvenient time.

My suggestion for this is to journal. I know, not everybody is a journaler. Me asking some people to keep a journal is pure punishment. They hate to write. And for people like me, when I do write (by hand) I can’t read what I wrote about 40% of the time. OK. Humor me.

This should not be a book you’ll share with anybody. It’s not your memoirs. It’s just a way for you to notice and embrace your feelings, when pushing them away is much more appealing.

You don’t have to write in sentences and paragraphs. Do it with bullet points, or as a grocery list. You don’t even have to use words. Do it with pictures, if you’re artistic. If I could draw, I’d choose that over all the other ways. But I can’t identify what I’ve drawn when I’m finished. So. Do it on paper, or do it on your computer or smart phone. Do it however fits with how you’re wired. But do it.

Reflect on what you’re feeling. My journals have been prayers for the past 45 years. I believe this kind of journal is best done as a prayer. Tell God about what you’re identifying as your feelings. It works so much better when you do it in partnership with God. And almost nothing is more of a partnership with Him than prayer.

You don’t have to psychoanalyze yourself. The answer to, “Why am I feeling this?” is simple. Because you’re grieving loss. You feel this because the one you love isn’t there. So don’t worry about analyzing yourself. The purpose of this journal is to help you acknowledge and own what you’re feeling, not to figure out the psychological and spiritual reasons for what you’re feeling.

Don’t be afraid to tell your friends and family that you’re having a tough time. Most of them have no idea what to say that would help, so they’ll just say nothing. The last thing they want to do is to say the wrong thing and make it worse! So they’ll just be silent. If you can think of something they could do or say that would be helpful, tell them. You may be surprised to find that once you’ve identified and owned your feelings, you’re likely to be able to tell the people in your life how they can be helpful to you as you journey through the feelings.

You might want to write a note about this to your family. Or an email. Or a Tweet or a Facebook private message. Explain that you know you will have a deeply emotional Christmas, and that it’s OK for them to see you a little bit wrecked by your emotions. Let them know that you know this could be messy. Let them know that you want them to walk through this with you, by your side, not watching it from the other room. If speaking it works for you, speak it. However you do it, telling them that you want to spend this special time with them, even though you know you’ll have difficult moments, gives them permission to love you well.

One last thought. Your own grief gives you a special empathy for others who are going through seasons of loss. This could be a good time to reach out to them and do nothing more than let them know you’re thinking of and praying for them. You don’t have to give advice. You don’t have to offer answers. Just a word that says they’re being thought of and prayed for. You know the power of this.

God isn’t embarrassed by your grief. He’s not looking away awkwardly when you awkwardly crack up a little. You’re not a hot mess to Him. Nobody gets your grief as much as He does. Let Him hold you tight in His love as you walk this difficult road through a really tough time.

The finest thing I’ve ever come across for helping process grief and loss is GriefShare. Compassionate people help grieving people get through the valley of the shadow of death. If you would like to check this wonderful ministry out, click on this link: https://www.griefshare.org/

From → Marriage, Parenting

2 Comments
  1. Marianne Morgan permalink

    Having been through 2 cycles of the GriefShare program I have to agree with your recommendation. During the second course I heard and saw things I missed the first time, so I’m actually thinking about going for trip #3 next month.

    And as for journaling, yes. Sometimes I reread what I’ve written and decide that some of my thoughts really aren’t what I want to leave behind for anyone to read, especially my children with regard to their dad, so I have on occasion conducted a little ceremony behind a random dumpster and pronounced the writing good and profitable before shredding it and throwing it in. But there certainly is in my mind no substitute for the personal therapy of identifying, acknowledging, and expressing one’s own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, upon rereading, I’ve been surprised at myself…

    • Thanks, Marianne. I don’t ever want anybody to read my journals. Or maybe I could make a second fake one that reads like Martin Luther or somebody…

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