Monday, 05 December 2011 17:38

Dealing with Grief at Christmas

Written by  Brenda Payne
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Christmas…the time to celebrate the birth of our Savior with family and friends! But not everyone will be surrounded by their loved ones this holiday season. Have you lost a spouse, child, close relative or friend? For those in mourning, Christmas can be the most difficult time of the year. If you are among the bereaved, the sounds and sites of Christmas are constant reminders of your loss. As in any heartbreaking situation, the greatest antidote for sadness, worry, or despair is to focus on loving God and your neighbor. I have had the privilege of watching great examples of grieving families tearfully, yet lovingly, deal with the pain of loss. The Word and their witness are my teachers and as a result I offer the following suggestions to help you as you grieve this holiday season.


1. Pray and pour your heart out to God. God is not uncomfortable with your pain. He is not disappointed by your grief. He knows your pain. He lost his own Son to death and worse. He can sympathize with your loss. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Take your lament to the Lord and flee to your great High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).

2. Guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).
• Focus your thoughts on the promises and character of God (Deuteronomy 7:9). Christmas can have a new and deeper meaning for you as you reflect on the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. Meditate on the Christmas story and ask yourself how embracing the Christmas story gives you hope in the midst of your sorrow. Or, read through the gospels this Christmas and remember that Christ came to save and His salvation ensures you will see your loved one again.
• Consider memorizing Scripture: your favorite, your loved one’s favorites, or simply verses that speak peace to your heart (Psalm 119:32). It is impossible to memorize Scripture and think on anything else. You will have to work to focus and discipline your mind to commit verses to memory, but having these key verses hidden in your heart will help you when you are overwhelmed with sorrow.
• Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Death is our enemy, but Jesus has overcome death! It is right to grieve those we love and lose. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. But you do want to guard against overwhelming sorrow or dwelling on hurts, bitterness or regrets which can lead to despair. You can either make your thoughts your prisoner of war or they will take you hostage. It can be exhausting to continually battle your thoughts but God will give you the grace as you depend wholly on Him. He fights your battles for you.
• Think more about eternity, heaven, and the sweet memories of your loved one rather than dwelling on his/her departure (Psalm 116:15). You may be tempted to dwell on the manner by which your loved one was called Home. If a long sickness or accident took your loved one away, you may struggle with difficult images. Rather than seeking to erase them, replace them.

3. Honestly communicate feelings and expectations with family members. Family get-togethers may be extremely difficult. Don’t expect anyone to be a mind reader; rather sit down ahead of time with your family and decide what you want to do for the holiday season. Acknowledge the loss and the pain of each person and undertake only what each family member can handle comfortably. Try to make the holiday season as joyous as possible for them. If you have lost a child or a spouse, remember that your grief and longing will look different than those around you. Once you have made the decision on the role you and your family will play during the holidays, let relatives and friends know. Keep communication ongoing.

4. Consider how you will celebrate. The following is a list of practical considerations adapted from the booklet “Hope for Bereaved” (now out of print).
Traditions- For some people, continuing with familiar traditions brings a sense of “normalcy” to the holidays. However, for others, traditions serve as a stark reminder that their loved one is not present. One possibility for the first year may be to visit relatives, friends, or even go away on a vacation. Planning, packing, etc., keeps your mind somewhat off the holiday and you share the time in a different and hopefully less painful setting. If you are accustomed to having Christmas dinner at your home, change and go to visit relatives, or change the time of day. Some find it helpful to be involved in the activity of preparing a large meal. Serving buffet style and/or eating in a different room may help. If you go to church consider a different service or even a different church setting. Remember, what you choose to do the first year you don’t have to do the next.

Limitations- Emotionally, physically, and psychologically grief is draining. Grief can make it more difficult for you to handle ordinary tasks, much less the bustle of Christmas. Focus on the things that are special. Realize that it isn’t going to be easy. Do the things that are very special and/or important to you. Do the best that you can. You need every bit of strength. Try to get enough rest. Baking and cleaning the house can get out of proportion. If these chores are enjoyable, go ahead, but not to the point that it is tiring. Either buy baked goods or go without this year. If shopping seems to be too much, have your relatives or a close friend help you. Consider shopping through a catalogue. Cut back on your card sending. It is not necessary to send cards, especially to those people you will see over the holidays.

Serving- Paradoxically, focusing on others is one of the best ways to alleviate your pain. Do something for someone else, such as volunteer work at soup kitchens or visit the lonely and shut-ins. Ask someone who is alone to share the day with your family. Provide help for a needy family. Donate a gift or money in your loved one’s name.

If you are facing grief this Christmas, look to the babe in the manger and remember that He came so that we might live forever with Him and those we love. Hold on to hope. May you be overwhelmed with the love of God as you experience the reality of this hope as the only answer for your loss and pain.

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