By John Montgomery with the Dwell Grief Ministry
In November, the Dwell Grief Ministry provided two workshops on Navigating Holiday Grief--one in-person and one on Zoom. More than 90 people attended the two sessions, including several from other cities, states, and countries.
While no simple guidelines exist that will make the holidays painless for those in grief, this workshop provided many practical, hope-inspiring ideas to help deal with the many challenges that come this time of year. Here's a brief summary of some of the practical considerations for grieving during the holidays.
Talk About Your Grief
While many people use the words "grieving" and "mourning" interchangeably, there is an important distinction. Grief is the many internal thoughts and feelings we experience when a loved one dies; mourning is the outward expression of our grief. Rather than trying to avoid your grief, lean into it. Expressing your grief can be an important way out of the pain.
Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Psychological Limits
Grieving takes energy and you may not be up to the physical and mental challenges of the many activities in which you usually participate. Give yourself permission to have "up and down" feelings. Don't feel guilty if you're not happy all the time. It is very normal and acceptable to have feelings of pain and joy simultaneously and to cry and laugh even while you grieve. Don’t be afraid to ask God for comfort and peace. He is the God of all comfort who comforts us in our suffering.
Eliminate Unnecessary Stress
Simplify what you customarily did in the past. You might decorate but on a smaller scale. You might reduce gift giving or decline some party invitations. If you feel you've taken on too much, sit down with family and friends and discuss how to share some of the responsibility. Eliminate things that are no longer important.
Talk About the Loved One Who Has Died
Remembering our loved ones is essential to our good health and healing. Holidays are a time for reflection. Stories and memories will be with us for our lifetimes and are a true source of pleasure. Teach others that love lasts forever, that you need to remember, and that this is your reality for handling grief.
Do What Is Right for You
There is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays in grief. Do what comforts and nourishes you; what you are capable of doing. Do what you can and let that be enough. You do not have to take responsibility for the happiness of others at holiday time.
Plan Ahead for Social Gatherings
You may find yourself in social situations that now are uncomfortable because of your different circumstances. You should prepare for those uncomfortable moments, thoughtless questions, and awkward remarks that are inevitable. In your mind, determine how you will answer, and stick with your rehearsed answers. If you might be “trapped” in a social setting, drive your own car. Or go with someone for support who is sensitive to your situation.
Express Your Doubt
Anger at God and doubt are not incompatible with faith in God. The notion that belief in God demands calm acceptance of everything that comes your way is false. If you stifle such emotions and don’t ask the “why” questions, you will be shutting yourself off from finding answers.
Affirm Your Faith
Above all, remember the spiritual truths of Christmas, and find comfort in them. The holidays may not be joyful for you but they can still be an opportunity to give thanks for the birth of Jesus, and God’s plan of salvation which resulted from his birth. Jesus was born, not only to save us from our sins, but to heal the pain and brokenness of our world. And one day Christ “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
Believe it or not, it is possible to experience joy during the holiday season, even as you grieve.
The Dwell Grief Ministry will offer a 6-week workshop called “Navigating your Grief” beginning in January on Zoom. This workshop is designed to encourage, educate, and equip individuals who are grieving the death of a loved one. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.