This year will be my fourth year celebrating the holidays since my Mom passed unexpectedly and quickly from cancer. I am not an expert on grief by any means, but I have discovered some helpful ways to make the holiday season still be one that I can fully celebrate in spite of the deep loss of my Mom not being a part of it. I am writing this in the hopes that what I’ve learned will be of some use to someone else that has suffered deep loss.
I would say this is THE most important and helpful tip I could give anyone regarding grief especially as a special day approaches.
As the anticipated day approaches, (whether it’s a holiday, an anniversary, birthday or any other big day that the loss may seem greater) allow yourself to grieve, don’t wait and hold it all in, in an attempt to “save” it for that special day.
Personally, I have learned that if I allow myself to be taken under the waves of grief as they roll in, I am able to resurface and experience peace again more quickly than if I try to control it by holding back and waiting for a convenient time. Another MAJOR benefit to this practice as special days approach is that by the time the special day becomes the present day, you’ve already grieved in such a way leading up to it, that the actual day becomes less sorrowful and more a day that can be truly celebrated.
I know that this may be a hard thing to practice, as it is a natural desire for our flesh to run away from what causes us pain. If this is you, take heart, my friend, may you find comfort from Jesus’ promise in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Did you notice that it doesn’t say, “Wait before you come to me”? No, it simply says “Come”. It has been my experience that when I come to him raw with honesty about my internal state of being, he meets me right then, where I am, and he gives me exactly what I need. REST.
Isaiah 54:10 “Thought he mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” It does my heart much good to remember that He has compassion on me, he hears my cries, and no matter what happens, his love for me is unfailing!
Typically the holiday season is one filled with traditions which makes it extra hard when one that you shared those traditions with is no longer present to take part with you.
The solution I have found for this is to do things differently than you normally would have. This enables you to be creative and to spend time thinking of new ways to make this time of year special with those that you still have to celebrate with, all the while it makes it not feel quite as big of a deal that the person you’re missing isn’t there because you’re doing things that they weren’t ever a part of. For instance, if you normally would gather on Christmas Eve and have a formal dinner, try meeting in a more casual setting and having an appetizer/dessert and game night. A personal example for me, we would normally all gather at my Mom’s on Christmas for brunch. This gave us time with our immediate families in the morning to open presents. Now that my Mom is gone, I have found much joy in planning some sort of special breakfast/brunch to surprise my kids with on Christmas morning instead of rushing off to my Mom’s house. I also carry on a tradition my Mom started when I was younger and I wrap a few “family presents” (games) to put under the tree. This way we have some family activities to fill our time on Christmas Day, and it feels fun to honor a tradition she started. I find Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 especially encouraging whenever a change is hard. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven (v 1)…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a tie to dance (v 4).” I cry and grieve as Christmas approaches, and I laugh and dance on Christmas Day.
Staying busy by focusing on others through the holiday season helps me to get my focus off of my loss and myself, and back to Christ and his command to love and serve others. Be creative and look for ways to serve in secret. If you have kids this is a great way to teach them that this life is not about us, it’s about bringing glory to God’s name. A tradition I started with my kids after my Mom died is baking cookies and homemade bread to take to all of the neighbors on my street, along with a Christmas card that shares about Jesus’ birth. Phil 1:27 says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” –even in grief.
As the very first Christmas I had without my Mom approached, I remember having the realization that every day without her was hard, which begged the question, “Why should that particular day be any harder?” Even as I write that question I can hear in my head all of the arguments one could make against it. The thing is a change in perspective has the potential to change everything. Sure, one could have the perspective that a certain day will be harder, but does it have to be that way? Or can we change our perspective, and decide that it doesn’t have to be? Let me give you an example, one of the hardest things about not having my Mom here anymore is being able to call her to share with her the funny, exciting, or hard things that are happening with my kids. Another big one is not being able to discuss the hardships of my own life as she was very wise and knew me so well. These are some of the everyday losses that feel excruciating and are no less painful than not being able to spend Christmas or any other holiday with her. In my experience, deciding that the loss doesn’t have to feel any worse on a holiday than any other day has proven to make it not so bad on the actual holiday or anniversary. I suggest trying it!
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Lastly, remembering 1 Thessalonians 4:13,14 “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” My Mom loved and followed Jesus faithfully, thus I have the assurance that she is in Heaven.
One of the things that help get me through Christmas and birthdays is remembering her love for Him, and her desire to be with Him in Heaven one day. I allow myself to imagine what it is like for her in Heaven on Christmas. Is there an amazing birthday celebration, or is every day a celebration? I picture what her face used to look like when He would move her in some way, I wonder if she has that look on her face all of the time now. Remembering that when she was here on Earth there was no place she would’ve rather been than in His presence, helps me to rejoice that she is there because I love her, instead of focusing on what it’s like for me to not have her here.
“Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (vs 6) “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
Psalm 95:1, 6
It is my hope for all that have experienced loss to know that the Lord is good, and His love endures forever.