I think it is common to assume that everyone looks forward to the Holiday season.
For many people, the Holidays are time of gathering with family and friends to eat good food, exchange gifts, and to spend time reminiscing about the past.
It used to be this way for me.
My Grief & Loss Story
I remember the feeling I got after Halloween was over because I knew that the Holidays were approaching. Thanksgiving and Christmas were my favorite times of year because they were my mother’s favorite times of the year.
I’ll never forget how my mother went all out during this time of year. She loved it all: cooking, entertaining, and shopping for gifts…lots of gifts.
My mother was my best friend, the most important person in my life, and I loved seeing her happy. For me, it wasn’t about the gifts or the food. I was happy because she was happy.
I remember Christmas of 2007 like it was yesterday.
That Christmas was different from the others. My mom and I spent the day together, just the two of us. We ate a simple meal and quietly exchanged gifts. Although I was just happy to be there with her, I couldn’t help but notice that things were different.
Just three months prior, in September of 2007, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and was dealing with chemotherapy side effects. So, naturally, she did not have the Holiday-induced energy from previous years.
Still, she made every effort to make things as normal as possible. Looking back, I believe that she had a feeling that Christmas 2007 might be our last Christmas together. And it was.
My mother died of breast cancer in April 2008, just 7 short months after her diagnosis.
Since then, the Holidays have never been the same for me.
In those first few years after my mother’s death, I used to dread the Holidays. I honestly could not wait until they were over.
Thankfully, because of God’s healing power, I have come a long way over these last 10 years since my mother’s death. No, things are not the same nor should I expect them to be. However, I have learned how to enjoy the holiday season despite my lingering grief.
If you are dealing with grief due to the loss of a loved one, I would like to share with you 3 ways that I have handled my own grief during the Holidays.
How To Deal With Grief During The Holidays
Be Honest About Your Feelings
Christmas 2008 was the first Christmas I spent without my mother. I remember everyone asking me how I was doing and, of course, I responded: “I’m fine.”
I was nowhere near being fine, OK, good…or any other convenient, canned response that I hoped would keep people from continuing to ask questions.
The truth is that I was heartbroken. Lost. In a grief-stricken fog that I was hoping and praying would pass. December 26th could not come fast enough.
But, I wasn’t thinking about myself and my grief. I was concerned about making other people feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. So, I lied.
Not only did denying the grief make me feel worse, it also slowed my healing process. Openly expressing my sadness at my mother’s death was a necessary part of my healing and, by denying this, I was not allowing myself to begin to heal and learn to adjust to her absence…the new normal that was my life without her.
So, I started being honest with myself and with others about how I was really feeling. Instead of telling everyone that I was fine, I simply stated that I was missing my mother. Not surprisingly, people understood and were very supportive.
I also realized my transparency was helpful to other family and friends who were also grieving her death in their own way.
When I avoided expressing my feelings surrounding my mother’s death, family and friends did not feel like they could talk about her because they did not want to upset me. When I opened up, it was easier for them to do the same, which allowed us to support each other in the healing process.
Ten years after my mother’s death, I still have to make an effort to avoid isolation during the Holiday season.
Being alone during this time has become my default, as I still worry about how my underlying sadness will affect others.
This was especially true in the first couple of years after her death. My mother and I were very close to our cousins and spent almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas with them. So, you can only imagine how noticeable her absence was. It was also a painful reminder to me, seeing cousins my age with their mothers, when mine was gone.
However, over the past few years, I have realized that choosing to be alone more often than not was causing me to be stuck in my grief. By isolating, I was not allowing myself to feel the normal emotions that I needed to feel in order to heal and move forward.
The reality about healing from loss is that we must get to a point where we are intentional about the healing process. This means making a conscious effort to be around people, even when we don’t necessarily feel like it.
Avoiding isolation not only involves spending time with others. It’s also about doing things that you actually enjoy doing during the Holidays. For example, I love Christmas lights displays, and used to ride through neighborhoods at night to see how people decorate their homes.
I can honestly say that I have never regretted the times that I have chosen to forego being alone for spending time with others during the Holidays.
Seek God And Pray
Without a doubt, my relationship with God is the number one thing that has helped me heal from my mother’s death.
Still, there were many times when I had no interest in studying the Bible or prayer. Especially during that first year where I was still trying to reconcile my feelings towards God for my mother’s death.
It was during this time that I turned to the Bible for comfort. One of my favorite verses is the book of Isaiah:
You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You. – Isaiah 26:3
The Bible reminds me of how Jesus, who was both man and God in the flesh, also experienced grief after the death of his friend, Lazarus:
Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
– John 11:30-35
Despite the fact that Jesus later raised Lazarus from the dead, he still felt the same sadness and emotions that we feel when we lose someone dear to us. Knowing that God can relate to my grief and sorrow brings me comfort and reassurance.
Finally, prayer is the key to healing from grief and loss.
In the same way that I encourage being honest with yourself and others about, being honest with God in prayer is crucial.
This involves pouring out your heart to Him (Psalm 62:8) about your pain, anger, confusion, and lack of understanding.
My first prayers after my mother’s death were not pretty. I cried out to God with all of my hurt and questions and, although I still do not fully understand why my mother died, I have peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) because of my constant communication with God through prayer.
You Are Not Alone
If you are experiencing grief related to the loss of a loved one, I want you to know that you are not alone. Being honest about my feelings, avoiding isolation, and prayer have helped me tremendously. I hope you will consider these practices for your own grief journey.
How are you dealing with grief during the Holiday season? Please share your thoughts below.