Loss, sadness, and grief are all part of the human condition. These experiences are unavoidable, inevitable. Around the Christmas holidays, things can be especially difficult for those persons who have lost loved ones in recent months or during the past couple of years. There are constant reminders during this special season of the ones we miss--those who have left an empty place in our hearts.
How are we to cope with our grief and sorrow during the holidays? This is a tough question to answer. But let’s first start with Jesus.
Of the Messiah, Isaiah (53:3) prophesied, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” In his days in the flesh, Jesus experienced the pain of isolation, sorrow, and grief. His human side knew all too well the inner turmoil that comes from losing a loved one to death. Upon the event of Lazarus’ death, and at the spectacle of the sorrowful sisters and mourning friends, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Yes, Christ was a man well-acquainted with loss and the accompanying sadness that ensues.
So, how can you cope when you’re still in the throes of bereavement during the holidays and the pain of loss is still so raw? Here are just a few practical ideas I hope may be of some help:
Acknowledge Your Loss Adequately to Your Own Self and to Others. People often attempt to stuff the disquieting feelings of grief by ignoring them or denying the full reality of their loss. Denial of loss and the accompanying sadness just prolongs the process of working through it. Therefore, allow yourself permission to feel sad and to experience whatever other uncomfortable emotions that may emerge. Communicate to others what you need from them to help you cope and also what you don’t need at the present. While the world seems to rush on, you are likely to find yourself seemingly stuck in your grief, left struggling with sadness and depression. You can’t just “get over it” and move on with your life as some may suggest. Also, keep in mind that everybody expresses their grief in uniquely personal ways. There is no one-size-fits-all grief process template that every individual will naturally conform to.
Honor the Memory of Your Loved One. Visit their gravesite and take flowers or even a present and speak to them. Tell them how much you still love them and miss them. When you are at home or visiting with family and friends, it’s important to be able to have open conversations about them recalling special memories. Share what it is about their presence that you miss the most. Light a candle in their memory. Hold their place at the dinner table and go around sharing what you loved about the person. Write a poem or song about them. Spend time alone with sentimental items that remind you of them. Look through old photo albums.
Pray to God for Help in Coping with Your Grief and Search the Scriptures for Comfort. God knows your pain and has not abandoned you in your bereavement. He is there to listen because He cares about you. He understands. Ask God for strength, comfort, wisdom, and peace. It’s okay to be honest with God about your feelings, even your anger regarding your loss. God is big enough to handle it. He is your loving Heavenly Father. Your “Abba” or daddy father (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). The Psalms are especially comforting and helpful (e.g., Psalm 23; 121; 136; 142; 147) as well as are several of the teachings of Jesus (e.g., John 10:1-18; John 14:1-5), and the apostles (Rom. 8).
Take an Occasional Break from the Grief and Do Something Enjoyable. Grief can be exhausting and often takes a long time to work through. It’s more like a marathon than a sprint. Therefore, it is necessary to take a break from it periodically to recoup, rest, and re-create. This is where some healthy distractions from it can be useful. Listen to some good music, take a candle-lit bath, exercise, catch a movie at the theatre, go eat with a friend at a nice restaurant, take a drive and look at the holiday lights, or just curl up and read a good novel to escape from reality for a while. Believe me, the grief will be waiting for you when you are ready to come back to it after you have regained some energy.
Participate in a Support Group and/or Speak to a Minister or Counselor. There are others in the community or surrounding communities who have gone through similar experiences within the past months. Just being able to speak about your sadness in a safe environment, where you can let your guard down and not feel the need to act strong can be freeing and cathartic. So many times, we are forced to keep our “game face” on to make it through the day if we’re working outside the home or tending to family needs at home. This makes it hard to find time to explore or express your deeper feelings about how you are doing inside.
There are many other helpful strategies, but I hope these ideas are of some benefit to you. Just remember that you’re not alone and that God loves you and cares about you.