“If there ever comes a day where we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Anyone having trouble finding joy during the holidays? Do you know someone that may be having a tough time with loss this holiday season? What most consider the happiest time of the year can sometimes be anything but jolly. At times, grief and loss can be felt most deeply during the holidays.
No, I am not a licensed grief counselor or therapist of any kind. I’m just someone who has had to walk through grief and loss a time or two in my life. What I suggest may be helpful, and I pray it is a blessing and encouragement to you during a difficult season, or is used to provide encouragement to someone you know that is struggling. My suggestions may not be helpful, and that’s okay too. That’s one of the most important things I’ve learned throughout my own journey of loss: there is no one-size-fits-all loss coping strategy. Each person’s journey is uniquely crafted to the individual that is experiencing it.
“The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.” Irving Berlin
Loss at any time of the year is tough. During the holidays, loss can be especially difficult. Family traditions can become emotional triggers with memories that tend to surround us at this time of year.
I’ve experienced my fair share of grief and loss. I remember a season not too long ago that was marked by loss that impacted every facet of my life. Starting in 2009, our family experienced loss of all shapes and sizes, which started with the deaths of grandparents on both sides. Throughout the six years that followed, this loss was followed by the collapse of several long-standing relationships due to conflicts we weren’t even a part of, some of my closest friends moving away, the deaths of our first
pets fur babies, multiple job losses, loss of income and savings, which then led to losing our home of 14 years, the loss of a business, several friends who walked through the death of a child, and the deaths of my brother-in-law and mother-in-law several months apart in 2015.
Those were the longest six years of my life.
How people walked with me in my grief during this extended season of loss will stay with me the rest of my life. Some of it brought refreshment and encouragement during a time when I thought that was impossible. Other parts have shown me what not to do and say, because the words and actions left me feeling empty, and without a safe place to share honestly about my grief. It has made me especially sensitive to those that grieve, regardless of the specific loss they are going through, and how incredibly vital it is to walk mindfully with those struggling through seasons of loss.
“The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart: The secret anniversaries of the heart.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I get it. We don’t really know what to do or say. Death and loss make us uncomfortable, and so in our desire to ease a person’s suffering, we often choose not to acknowledge it. We forget that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. It actually makes it worse. The only way to go through suffering is to actually go through it, not around it.
In people’s zeal to help you feel better, it can sometimes look like your grief is not being acknowledged. I’ve learned to not just speed to the encouragement without actually acknowledging the grief that is present. Yes, even as a person of faith with the hope of a life beyond this earth, my grief is still real and should be acknowledged. And by acknowledgement, I do not mean “How wonderful that you will see them again in heaven.” This should not be one of the first things out of our mouths to someone who has experienced loss.
Here are some other examples of what not to say:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“It could be worse.”
Yes, these statements are true. I am certain the people who say these things mean well, but it’s just not very helpful, and quite possibly even harmful to initiate our time with folks that are grieving with these statements.
Saying “I’m sorry” will never get old. “I am so sorry for your loss.” It acknowledges a person’s loss and how you feel about it, without trying to fix them or the situation. There is nothing we need to fix with grief. We don’t need to use potentially ill-timed words to try and make grief go away.
Not knowing what to say, and letting the person know that you don’t know what to say works too.
Hugs, as well as our own sorrow over their loss encourage more than any words can ever do.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
There is an Amy Weatherly quote that I stumbled across recently that has so deeply resonated with me:
“You’re going to come in contact with an awful lot of people who are at their absolute breaking point this season. Friends, family, co-workers, teachers, strangers in the grocery store, retail workers. While it may be the merriest time of the year for some, it’s the saddest, loneliest, most stressful for so many others. We’re all busy, but we’re not too busy to be kind, caring, and patient. Remember the best thing you can give someone right now is love.”
The most important part of dealing with loss for me has been to simply acknowledge it. Even though there is fear, I am learning to have courage to talk about it. Why? Because grieving is not a bad thing. A person should not be shamed because of their sadness, no matter how much time has gone by. Grief can be, and often is intermingled with hope. That hope is often hidden until the grief is acknowledged.
“Grief is not a disorder, disease or sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” Earl Grollman
Some Practical Help:
Here are some practical tips I found at Love Lives On for those grieving and struggling through loss this holiday season:
- surround yourself with supportive people.
- it’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to be happy too.
- you don’t have to feel great about the holiday season – a lot of it is hard during seasons of loss.
- it’s okay to get better – it doesn’t mean you’re “over” the loss.
Here’s some practical help we can offer to those who are grieving this holiday season:
- be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays – there is no one-size-fits-all way to grieve or deal with loss.
- offer to help the person with decorating, holiday baking, or holiday shopping if they are feeling up to it.
- invite them to join you or your family for any holiday celebrations you are having.
- donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one.
- be willing to listen.
- remind them you are thinking of them and the loved one who has died.
- follow up after the holidays to check in.
The greatest gift you can give someone who is grieving through a season of loss is your presence. May this holiday season find us with fresh hope in the midst of grief, and fresh vision to reach out to those in our midst who may be struggling with loss.