Navigating The Holidays Through Loss

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Music. Lights. Honeybaked Ham. Red Velvet Cake. Presents.

Laughing. Sharing. Reminiscing. Family.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…until it’s not. This year, my family will celebrate Thanksgiving without my grandmother. Mimi, we called her. Her ability to cook crazy good food was unrivaled. She was Picasso with a baking dish, and every year, during Thanksgiving, she put her art on full display. Dressing. Green Beans. Strawberry Cake. Pumpkin roll. Thanksgiving was to Mimi what Christmas is to the rest of us. She started weeks in advance, pouring her love into every dish. 

This year, Thanksgiving will be different. Much different. Mimi won’t be there. My precious grandmother died two months ago. My family will still gather. We will still eat. But, this day, normally stuffed with hugs and food and football, will instead be stuffed with somberness and probably tears. 

Many, in fact, enter the holidays with something less than excitement.

While everything around you says it’s a jolly fun season, you’d just assume remove November and December from the calendar. You dread the very thought of it.

For others, dealing with loss during the holidays is nothing new. You’ve traveled the trail of holiday grief for years. 

Since we can’t remove this season from the calendar, how do we navigate it? Honestly, I’m not sure. I want to be upfront about that. But, in thinking about my own situation, I want to offer a few practical suggestions.

1. Trust that Grief is Part of Healing.

Every part of my being wants to escape the pain. I want to walk through the front door Thanksgiving Day and pretend everything’s okay. I want to avoid grief. But I know it’s detrimental to my joy. Avoiding the reality of my loss won’t take away my pain. It won’t take away yours, either.

Grief is medicine for the soul. Give yourself a gift the season— the space to grieve.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus says. Yes, grief is uncomfortable. But I choose to believe God meets me in my pain. I believe he will meet you too.

2. Create New Ways to Remember.

Traditions are powerful bridges. They span the gaps of time, from past to present. They keep us connected, as families and communities. They center us around what’s important. The holiday season is chopped full of traditions. Your family probably has them. Your church may have some as well.

But maybe it’s time to remove some bridges. They’re outdated. They no longer help you span the past and time healthily. Whatever the case, traditions can be altered or altogether removed.

In their place, build new bridges, ones that help you remember the person you’ve lost. 

A few ideas:

– Serve someone. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Sometimes the biggest comfort is found in giving.

– Spend Christmas away from home, with your closest family. Maybe you trek up to the mountains. Or go on a cruise.

– Hang a special ornament to honor your loved one. Pull up an empty chair to the dinner table.

3. Take care of yourself.

The holidays are a wild ride, pulling us to and fro. It’s a grind, even under the best of circumstances. It’s even more important that you practice self-care. If some aspect of the holiday season is simply too hard, give yourself permission to say no. Let’s be honest, Christmas cards have always been a gross waste of time. You can definitely cut those out. 

Surround yourself with people who give you life. If you can’t avoid the emotional leeches, set up boundaries, and be firm with them. 

4. Fix your Eyes on Hope.

As the holidays approach, I can’t help but be excited that Advent is coming. It’s a time of anticipation that reminds us that Love is here, that darkness and evil and loss will soon meet their end, that we serve a God who is “with us.”

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” I Peter 1: 3-4

May the Lord go before each of us during this holiday season as we grieve, as we remember, as we celebrate.

Grace and peace, friends.

Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.

3 Comments

  1. I think, Frank, that these are excellent suggestions in navigating grief. My wife passed in June of last year. Talk about something you cannot prepare for…. especially when it’s unexpected, as my wife’s death was. I found myself with no idea of how to proceed with my life, knowing full well that I must, in some way, carry on. The first two or three months passed in a fog. When the fog cleared I started to write; first on facebook, trying to be transparent about how it affected me. My thought was that I could use it as a therapeutic tool to help me understand what it meant and how I could move forward in a life without her. I was successful in this as my posts on facebook did just that. I got an added benefit when comments about those posts were passed on to others and I was encouraged by those comments to expand my writing into a book (as yet unpublished) which I have mostly finished, outside of editing. I found too that I could write poetry, something I did not think I was capable of. Two poems, one in February 2017 and the other in May 2017. I’ll share them here….

    I THINK

    I think, I think, I think
    I think I can forget
    I try, I try, I try
    I try to forget
    I can’t, I can’t, I can’t
    I can’t forget
    Should I think of or try forgetting?
    Can I?

    I wish, I wish, I wish
    I wish she was still here
    I pray, I pray, I pray
    I pray she is at peace
    I remember, I remember, I remember
    I remember the love,
    The good times.
    Her smile, her laugh

    I talk, I talk, I talk
    I talk to God
    I ask, I ask, I ask
    I ask, “Why her? Why me?”
    He answers……
    “Sorrow is good for the soul.”
    and
    “Do not be afraid,
    Do not be discouraged.
    I am with you wherever you go.”

    I want, I want, I want
    I want to be at peace
    I move, I move, I move
    I move forward
    I begin, I begin, I begin
    I begin a new life without….
    Without her

    I think, I try, I can’t
    I wish, I pray, I remember
    I talk, I ask, He answers
    I want, I move, I begin…….
    Again and again

    I think, I think, I think…….
    I know……

    Chris Nicolai
    022117

    IN BETWEEN

    In between……

    I look at things that were hers,
    Jewelry, clothes, etc…
    They bring thoughts of her.
    I feel a tug backward……
    No real desire to go there.

    I look at things that will be mine.
    A new house, a girlfriend, another wife?
    My future, the unknown.
    No great desire to go there either;
    I go because God wants me to
    I go because I was meant to,
    I go reluctantly

    I look at the present.
    The in between…..
    What’s going on this second.
    The things that are just mine now,
    Different church, different home,
    Items I’ve acquired since she passed away.
    I have desire to be here…
    Then again, no

    Staying in the present…..
    Keeps me away from the pain…
    The pain of the past.
    Keeps me away from the fear…
    The fear that comes with the future.
    It also leaves me spinning my wheels,
    Running in place.
    I don’t want to keep running in place

    In between….

    It’s where I want to be?
    (maybe)
    Not for long though

    Be who I was.
    Be Then?
    Be who I am.
    Be Now?
    Be who I’m going to be.
    Be The Future?
    Be all three?

    All three is who we all are, I think.
    It’s up to us where…or when….
    we hang our hats

    Eyes wide shut?………..
    Eyes wide open?

    It’s up to me…..

    Chris Nicolai
    050717

    This is my second set of holidays without her. I thought getting through the first year would alleviate the longing I have for her. It didn’t; not as much as I wanted it too, anyway. This holiday season, as you so aptly state, are entered into with something less than excitement for me, and although I have filled my life with the things you mention, it is still a struggle once the lights are out and I go home to be alone. Even though I know God is there to carry me, I find myself in tears – occasionally – not as much last year but I still yearn for her presence and companionship. Still I step forward, step into the future, my eyes as wide open as I can get them. Thanks for the words. God Bless….

    • Chris, really profound, encouraging words. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Emily sent your blog link to me and I’m so glad she did! I lost my husband eight months ago. I’m trying to choose joy but some days, the grief still overtakes me. The holidays are not and will never be, the same. However, there will be an empty chair at the dinner table and an ornament hung in remembrance of him ❤️

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