Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grief During the Holidays

Q. I recently lost a loved one to cancer. I grieve everyday. When I think about the holidays, I am not sure I even want to celebrate this year. It just seems like it will be too hard. What do I do?

A. As much as you might want to ignore it, Christmas is coming. “Silver Bells” has already begun proclaiming ‘it’s Christmastime in the city’ even though it is barely November. The empty place at the annual Christmas Eve dinner has already crossed your mind many times.

Perhaps you found yourself wanting to avoid the mall the day after Thanksgiving, not because of the crowds, but because you are not ready to do any shopping. It all reminds you of one thing -- Christmas is going to be difficult this year because of the recent loss of a loved one. Although you did not have a choice in your loss, you do have some decisions about how you mourn this Christmas season.

It is important to acknowledge to yourself and those close to you that this season will not be the same as in previous years. Your life and family have been altered permanently. As you face this reality, give yourself permission to mourn this enormous loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve this Christmas.

Remembering your loved one during the holidays can aid in your journey towards healing. Perhaps you want to tell stories (including humorous ones) about your family member as you open presents. Friends and family members may share lists of their favorite past Christmas memories with him or her. You may also choose to begin new family traditions, such as going to an earlier Christmas Eve service followed by dinner at a relative’s home.

Perhaps your friends and family were with you from the time you heard the news until you said goodbye to the last guests at the funeral. Now you long to have that same support to endure December and the winter months to come. It is important that you ask for what you need. Spend time with friends, request prayer and talk to them about your pain. On the other hand, there may be a Christmas party you send your regrets to because you don’t feel like celebrating. There is freedom in knowing and following through with what you need. However, make sure that you do not completely isolate yourself from others.

During these difficult days ask God to sustain you. Turn to the Word of God as a source of strength. Some of the Old Testament books such as Job, Psalms and Lamentations may be comforting as you work through your grief. Memorize Scripture so that it is “hidden in your heart” no matter where you are throughout your day. Keep a journal of your feelings and write out your prayers to God. You might write a letter addressed to your family member about how much you miss them this Christmas.

As you remember and grieve for your loved one this season, remember that God is able to sustain you as the Psalmist writes: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” (Psalm 30:12).

Additional Tips on Handling the Holidays:

1. Talk to your family and friends about your expectations for this Christmas.
2. Be sure to stay involved in church and church activities during this time.
3. Make a donation to a charity or your church in memory of your loved one.
4. Do not be afraid to cry or laugh. Do whatever you need to at that time.

Editor’s Note: Anne Lawton, a professional counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of Alabama Baptist Children's Homes answered this week's question.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Pastors Should Refer?

Q. I am a pastor at a local church. I often times will have church members come and see me for counseling needs. There are some issues I am comfortable with handling, but when it gets past a few meetings I am wondering if I should refer them to a professional counselor. What do you think about this?

A. What a great question! We actually have a counselor on our staff who formerly served in the capacity of pastor. Dwight Wilson, counselor for Pathways Professional in Sheffield, Hartselle, and Athens, has some great insight into why pastors should consider referring out some counseling needs.

"Having had the wonderful privilege of being a pastor from 1972-1997; I discovered several really good reasons for referring individuals and couples who came to me for counseling.
  1. Although I received a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I did not take one course in counseling. I felt very comfortable dealing with Spiritual matters, and yet, I felt overwhelmed and incompetent when it came to other areas. I did not have the practical training for in-depth marital counseling nor mental health counseling.
  2. I found that as a pastor certain priorities had to be established with regard to time if proper preparation were to be given to preaching the Word a minimum of three times each week. (Counseling can be long term for some, 10 to 26 weekly sessions, or more.)
  3. When an individual counsels with their pastor revealing their innermost being (fear, insecurity, needs, sins, etc.), it can become a stumbling block to both the minister and the counselee. During sermon preparation the minister is constantly desiring-thinking of ministering the word to the people. When those things which were mentioned in a counseling session arise in the study, the pastor has to evaluate how this is going to be perceived by a counselee who has shared this issue confidentially with him. Is this individual going to think that I am betraying confidentiality, or maybe preaching to him/her from the pulpit? So, the question arises for the pastor, “Do I dare even preach this?”
  4. Often when persons have been counseled by their minister, shared their thoughts, needs, fears, pain, or letting it all hang out-so-to-speak, they no longer are comfortable attending the church because the pastor knows too much. Therefore many individuals choose to move on to either attend another church or drop out of church completely, especially if this is the only church they have ever attended.
  5. Many individuals just cannot bring themselves to share with someone they know, their pastor, what is really bothering them. Therefore, some superficial work is done without getting to the root of the issue which leaves the counselee frustrated, confused, and blaming God, the pastor, and the church because they have not gotten the relief they desire and need.
  6. A fear that keeps individuals from counseling is that their confidentiality will be betrayed. So when the preacher speaks about a particular issue, the devil will suggest to some person that the preacher is really talking about him/her! ???Are ministers competent counselors? Yes, most are. Do ministers keep things confidential? Yes, most do. But the pastor should weight out whether it is in the best interest of their church member to be counseled by their pastor."
If you have further questions about whether you should refer some to our many statewide locations, give Lisa Keane a call at 1-866-991-6864. She is the statewide intake coordinator and will be able to help you determine if professional counseling from a Christians perspective is a good fit for that church member.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.