There are many articles out there for dealing with grief during the holidays, as the holiday season is traditionally a season spent with family, loved ones, friends, and – well, tradition. Everybody knows it’s tough facing Christmas or Thanksgiving without a loved one. This year has special meaning for me, as it will be our first Christmas ever without Pop. Sadly, I could name quite a few others who are going to experience their first Christmas without…. Someone they love.
I’ve found myself thinking back to the years I spent working as a Social Worker (LCSW – I keep my license current, though am not in full time practice) and things I learned from patients. (I worked mostly in oncology.) I’ll share some inspiration I learned from those grieving (and a few ideas of my own):
~ Take the word “should” right out of your vocabulary. And don’t feel guilty about it.
~ Change things up. (If you don’t like turkey, maybe this is your chance!) In south Louisiana, food is sacred and this might be the year to switch to pork roast or turducken or brisket. What, you don’t know who’s going to make the rice dressing now that MawMaw isn’t here? Gather family members and learn how to cook it together. I remember a family who couldn’t imagine Christmas without MawMaw because she always cooked. It was an opportunity for them to gather at MawMaw’s kitchen and cook together (they’d been banished from her kitchen before as she insisted on doing everything).
~ Make a donation in honor of your loved one. If you find yourself teary-eyed while shopping and thinking how much “they” would like something, donate the money you would have spent to a worthy cause. Or be a “secret Santa” for a community or church giving tree.
~ If you can’t face a holiday dinner, consider volunteering at a local food bank or community kitchen.
~ If you do have the holiday dinner, remember your loved one and drink a toast to them. Have a slice of their favorite pie for them. They aren’t gone, they’re just quiet, in another room (and it’s a much nicer room that we can’t see on this earth).
~ Gratitude goes a long way. Find things to be grateful for, and start with the life of that loved one.
~ Cherish the memories, and cry when you feel like it.
~ Worship, whether with a community, with family, or just alone if you can’t face a crowd.
~ Remember that everyone grieves differently, in their own way, in their own time.
~Above all, try to focus on the hope of this season. Each year at Christmas, we are reminded that in spite of the fact that humanity is broken, sinful, and generally messed up, God still gave us the gift of his son Jesus. No matter what trials befall in this life, we have the promise of redemption. The miracle of the Incarnation is indeed a miracle; God didn’t have to do any of this. But what better way to show Divine Love than to take on human form, walk among us, and show in unmistakable ways how much we are loved?
We know this world is upside down, and the loss of a loved one only makes the feeling heavier. We felt Pop’s absence at Thanksgiving, and will feel it even more sharply at Christmas. But I’ve been looking at photos of him from last Christmas and grinning. I’ve been remembering being a child, waking him and mom up at 5 AM saying look what Santa brought and chuckling over his and mom’s bleary-eyed excitement for my brother and me. We had him for decades, and no amount of grief can ever take away my gratitude for having him as my father.
May God bless you and yours this beautiful Christmas season.