When Grief is Overwhelming Your Holidays

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If you have recently lost someone dear to you, then you probably understand that the holidays can intensify the grief and mourning that surrounds that loss.  Holidays are often filled with traditions and family memories.  What happens when those traditions are now missing a key member?  What happens when family memories bring tears instead of smiles?

I lost my mom to cancer a few years back, and I remember thinking that I needed to “just get through the holidays” when my first Christmas without her approached.  I was all about getting through it and getting it over with.  Maybe that is what I needed at the time, but looking back on it now, I wish I had understood a few key things.

A New Normal

Things won’t be the same, so stop expecting them to be.  I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, but I really needed to understand this after I lost my mom.  I remember crying over every Christmas tradition that was now different (or ruined as I used to think).  I cried when I saw sugar cookies, because my mom used make sugar cookies each year.  I cried when I decorated the house, and saw the Santas she used to set out in every nook and cranny.  I cried when I celebrated Christmas with just my dad, and her warmth was missing.

Here’s the thing I needed to understand…we had a “new normal” now.  Things were not as they once were.  How could they be?  My mom was gone.  I needed to stop mourning the loss of every single tradition and start recognizing that things were going to be different now, and that was OK.  It would have to be OK.  There was nothing I could do about it.

Others Need You Too

Recognize that others need you to be present.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own grief.  I was feeling especially down one day, thinking about my mom, feeling sad, wrapped up in my own thoughts and memories.  I didn’t even want to make Christmas cookies or decorate.  Everything felt too painful for my fragile heart.  I remember looking up, though, and seeing my kids.  They needed me.  They needed me to carry on the traditions of the season.  They needed me to be present.

If you are missing someone special this Christmas, please don’t forget that there are others who need you.  They need you to participate and be present.  I hope you can allow their love to warm your heart this holiday.  Making their Christmas special can help to mend your heart as well.

Find Positive Comforts

It’s OK to visit grief, but don’t set up camp there.  Of course we all grieve.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to wallow in grief.  Acknowledge your feelings; they are real!  But then find a positive way to comfort yourself and move on.

visit grief

What might that be?  For me, it was reading God’s word.  I was comforted to know that God saw my grief, that He cared, and that He’d see me through it.  Psalm 18 talks about the Lord being my rock, my shield, my fortress.  I needed a steady rock, and God provided me with the strength I needed.  If you are grieving, try reading God’s word.  Perhaps start in Psalms.  David often poured out his heart to God, holding no emotions back.  Reading those personal, heart-wrenching moments, and knowing that God heard David and cared, encouraged me to know that He’d hear me and care too.

What else may help?  Exercise helps some.  The physical exertion can provide an outlet for overwhelming emotions. Talking to a trusted friend helps others.  Some are calmed by creative outlets — knitting, sketching, writing, painting.  Find what works for you.  Remember, visit grief, but don’t stay camped out there for weeks on end.

Find a Way to Honor Your Loved One

Turn the missed memories into opportunities to honor your lost loved one.  Was your loved one known for baking Christmas cookies (like my mom was)?  Then, as you bake those cookies this year (remember, others need you to participate and be present), then do it in honor of your loved one.  As I baked the sugar cookies that first year, I talked about my mom to my kids.  We talked about how she would decorate them.  We laughed when mine looked nothing like hers used to look.  Was it easy?  No.  But, it was a way for me to share memories of my mom and to honor her with my actions.  I know that’s what she would want us to do.

These are just a few simple ideas for dealing with grief during the holidays.  I know it’s not easy.  I know it may feel almost impossible at times, but you have to find a way to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Find a positive comfort for yourself.  Continue to participate and be present in the season’s activities as a way to honor your loved one.  Realize that you now have a “new normal” and that is OK.  Keep living life while you remember the past.

Take good care.

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