Thursday, December 6, 2012

How Do I Grieve 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.

*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: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.