Grieving Through the Holidays
Dec. 12, 2022
By Deb Hadley
6 ways to honor your loved one through the season
Losing a loved one to death is hard, and the holidays seem to intensify the emotions that come along with grieving. Grief is the counterpart to love. So, if we love, we will naturally grieve. The holidays are a time for love, a time for family, a time to celebrate together. When someone is no longer physically present, the joy of the holiday season can be lost. What once was an enjoyable event can be excruciating.
Those who mourn well, grieve well. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center of Life and Loss Transition, explains that there is a difference between grief and mourning. He explains that grief is what we think and feel on the inside when someone we love passes away. Examples include fear, loneliness, panic, pain, anxiety, emptiness, etc. Where mourning is the outward expression of our grief. It is grief gone public. We mourn by crying, talking about our loved ones, journaling, listening to music, attending grief groups, going to counseling, drawing, etc. Mourning allows you to bring the hurt of grief that is on the inside, to the outside, so the healing process can begin.
Since you cannot escape the holidays, it is helpful to think of ways you can publicly mourn that brings recognition to your loved one and comfort to you. In 2013, my 24-year-old daughter, Kaylie, passed suddenly from an epileptic seizure. Sadly, nine months and 2 days later, on March 7, 2014, my 20-year-old son, Tyler, passed tragically in a car accident. I remember the fear and anxiety that took over my body as the holidays approached. Without my children, I didn’t want to celebrate. Without my entire family, I didn’t want to get together and have two people I loved so dearly missing. But, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t wish the holidays away. They were coming.
The first few holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were the toughest. As the years go on, the sting of my kids not being here has subsided a bit, but the sadness remains. To this day, we mourn as a family, and we do this in a healthy way by including their memory into our celebration.
Here are some ideas that we have done, and may be helpful to you this Holiday season:
- Have each person write their favorite memory, or memories of their loved one. We put the memories in their Christmas stockings and read them when we celebrate Christmas.
- Get an inexpensive helium tank and have a balloon release outside. Have a little music playing and say a prayer together.
- Decorate a small tree with things that remind you of them. A friend of mine lost his wife and on the first Christmas of her passing he decorated a small tree with her large key chain collection. This made him smile every time he looked at it, and the grand children loved looking at the many keychains in her collection.
- Light a candle, display a picture and play some music that heals your heart.
- Prepare a meal and intentionally make all their favorite dishes.
- Start a new tradition and have the celebration at a different location.
The ideas listed above may be helpful to you, and they may not. Each person is on an individual grief journey and will have to do what works best for them. I think the most important thing for me in my grief is to focus on the holiday season and what it represents. It is not about the presents, the tree, cards, food, or even the gatherings. It is about a Messiah being born who would one day save us from this world. I thank God everyday for sending His Son to walk amongst us, for forgiving our sins, and for the gift of Salvation. I hold onto the promise of eternal life. I am grateful for the gift of my children, and I am grateful I will see them again. They are celebrating Christmas in Heaven this year, and that brings me great comfort.
Knute Nelson Hospice