Grief During The Holidays
HOW TO HANDLE GRIEF DURING CHRISTMAS
Life is made of memories. Like a scrapbook of your life, memories carry associations and meanings that have an effect on who you are and how you live. If you and your childhood bestie shared warm, peanut butter cookies when you hung out together, those yummy, gooey, cookies will forever be associated with your childhood friend. If you go through a tough breakup, you know how hard it can be to go to the places that were meaningful for your relationship. Another reality is that most of us will have to deal with the passing away of someone that we love. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that, “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”Whether it’s a friend, spouse, grandparent, parent, or even a pet, the death of someone you love can be one of the hardest things we can experience on this side of heaven. The pain of grieving can linger for years, and usually you feel the pain all over again when something reminds you of your loved one. These associated memories are why people often have a hard time during the holidays, especially Christmas. Maybe you and your daughter used to put up the Christmas lights every year, but now you have to put them up by yourself. Perhaps your mom used to make the most beautiful Christmas dishes and now you try to follow her recipes. Christmas is full of so many unique, beautiful experiences and traditions that are bound to stir up some memories. Grief is one of the hardest parts of Christmas, but you can still have peace, joy and a fulfilling holiday while you honor the memories of the people you love.
THE BIOLOGY OF GRIEF
Christmas is a holiday that is full of love, laughter, gift-giving, and celebrations. After all, it is the celebration of our Savior! If you are dealing with grief for a lost loved one, you might feel a little like the Grinch, alone on the mountain watching everyone below in Whoville sing, dance, and laugh. Grief is debilitating and overwhelming, but not just for your mind, but your body too. When you are grieving, your body and mind go through major changes. During the first few weeks of grieving, people have increased heart rates, higher blood pressure, and are more prone to heart attacks. Grieving sends a torrent of stress hormones into your body, which cause all sorts of different physical and mental reactions. You might lose or gain weight, your hair might fall out or turn gray, or you might be unable to sleep or eat. Your body and mind are both being physically assaulted by grief. When you experience something that reminds you of the person that you lost, your brain activates the same areas that are involved in processing pain and memories.
All of us have experienced some level of grief. Even if you are fortunate enough to not have lost a loved one, you might be grieving a relationship, a home, a job, or even a part of life that you feel like you’ve lost. Grief isn’t always as severe as the loss of a loved one. It’s totally normal to feel grief this Christmas if you’ve recently moved, lost a job, gone through a breakup, or your life has changed. It’s not unusual to grieve who you used to be or what you used to have. However, eventually, you’ll need to let go of the grief so you can move on to your next stage of life and appreciate it in all its fullness.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH GRIEF AT CHRISTMAS:
Don’t isolate yourself. It’s easy to wallow in your pain, like the Grinch hiding on Mount Crumpit with his to-do list, “4:00, wallow in self-pity, 4:30, stare into the abyss.” When you’re grieving, your energy levels decrease, and it’s normal to want to stay home or even stay in bed. Don’t if at all possible. Whether you’re feeling sad or numb, tell someone. Don’t deal with these feelings alone. It might be hard to be around other people, but once you’ve spent time in community you usually won’t regret it.
What would they say to you? If your grief is for the death of a loved one, ask yourself, “What advice would they give me now?” I bet they wouldn’t want to see you crying and sad, especially at Christmas. You can’t escape being reminded of them, so do something that honors their memory. Bake their favorite dessert, call one of their friends, or watch their favorite Christmas movie.
Look outside of yourself. Grief is such an intensely absorbing emotion. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your thoughts and feelings and forget about those around you. You still have plenty of good things in your life, and when you’re grieving it’s hard to see outside of yourself. Find an activity that will force you to focus on someone that is not you. You could volunteer somewhere, serve at church, visit a lonely neighbor, or make someone dinner. Stepping outside of yourself helps your grief to move off of the front burner in your mind.
Talk to God. After all, he is the best counselor. He promises to draw near to you when you are hurting, so look for verses and stories in the Bible where the Lord helped and provided for others. (The book of Ruth is a good place to start)
Think eternally. Life is hard, and sooner or later you will have to deal with grief. In light of eternity, the here and now seems very short. You have so much to look forward to, but also so much to live for in the present. We all have a limited number of years, so live yours to the fullest.
Grief is complicated. It is always changing and morphing as you grow and learn to cope with it. You might not ever feel the same. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to still feel grief, but if it’s taking over your life and keeping you from living fully, consider talking to a therapist. Sometimes even talking about the person you’ve lost is helpful in associating good memories with them again. If you’re grieving this Christmas, my heart goes out to you. I know it’s hard. However, trust me, you are capable of living a full, joyful life even though you might be grieving. This Christmas, focus on the joy that comes with creating new memories in the present that honor ones in the past.