The holidays are coming, and this may be your first or second without your loved one.  What do you do to get through this huge wave, this tsunami, looming before you?  How do you cope when every time you turn on the radio in your car, turn on the television, go to the market, you see those around you with an intact family, with a holiday smile, and you are literally crumbling inside?

There is no right or wrong way to respond when grieving – particularly grieving through the Holiday Season!  We and sometimes those in our lives have the erroneous notion that we are all going to grieve just like someone else. Each family member, each widow or widower, each child, each parent, each grandchild, each grandparent, each friend grieves as an individual.  Though we are not alone on our journey, it is definitely an individual journey.

I want to remind you – GRIEF TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES!

Not ALL of the following suggestions will be right for YOU.  In the same way that grief is an individual journey, grief help is also individual.  There are very few ‘should’s’ here… Some of you agonized through a slow, painful death with your loved one; for others it was sudden and traumatic.

I would guess that some of you wish you could go to sleep and wake up on January 2nd, when the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) are a memory and the New Year has begun.  Then there may be others who are afraid for what the New Year will bring, and in fact, may struggle with the New Year – when all is supposed to be new.

Here are some hints (in no particular order) about getting through the holidays when grief may be all you see:

Do not keep silent.   Find someone with whom you can let down your guard and express your grief.  Find those people who will let you cry freely or express your anger.  Find that person or those persons you trust and are comfortable with to share your heart.Ask for help.  Talk openly with other family members – “How in the world are we going to get through the holidays this year?”  By voicing that question that they may be feeling as well, you have taken the proverbial pink elephant out of the living room and addressed your ‘corporate’ pain.  Ask for and accept help for holiday details – shopping, cooking, cleaning, baking, wrapping, decorating!

Do what brings genuine comfort, even if it seems odd to others.

Keep the traditions that have the most meaning for you but feel free to start new traditions.

Brace yourself for the wave effect.  You’ll be cooking a turkey, doing fine, congratulating yourself about how well you are getting through the day, when a whiff of pumpkin pie reminds you – or a favorite carol, or a color, or an ornament.  Another way to describe it is a ‘dip in’ to your grief.  It comes unexpectedly and can throw you!  Allow yourself to ‘feel the feeling’ of grief – even if it only lasts for a brief time.  At those times, give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to stare off into space, to remember.  In fact, sometimes it is helpful during a given day to just allow the ‘flooding’ to come – find a quiet, safe place and give in to the tears.  Having taken the time you need to do that, you may better be able to interact with your family and friends during other parts of the day.

Lean on your faith in our loving God.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  In Psalm 23….Our Shepherd has said that HE walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death, tenderly caring for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

Speak of your loved one whenever he or she comes to mind – no holding back for fear of depressing yourself or others, including no holding back the tears or expressions of sorrow that naturally flow.  Do one special thing to commemorate how much you miss your loved one.

You might feel ‘guilty’ for experiencing pleasure and joy during the holidays – that somehow you are being disloyal to your loved one.  A grieving family had written that they intentionally gave more thought to each holiday task – from wrapping presents to mailing cards…appreciating them as time-honored rituals instead of dreary chores to be gotten out of the way.

Again, REMEMBER what I said earlier – not all of these ideas will be the right thing for everyone!

Barbara Roberts

BARBARA M. ROBERTS has a degree in pastoral care and family counseling from Regis University, and she has been in the field of caring for those who hurt for many years. Her teaching and speaking, as well as one-on-one caregiving and pastoral counseling, have given her broad experience and exposure to the needs of others. "Listening, sharing in another's pain, and being privileged to pray with that person is a gift that God has given to me. I am blessed to be able to use the gift for what I hope continues to be to His glory." Barb was called by God at a very young age. Even as a young girl, her heart desired to know God and to serve Him. She is a Colorado native who grew up in the Denver area and has stayed close to home. In 1961, she married her husband, Ken, and her greatest joys involve her family -- husband, three children, and their amazing spouses, and nine grandchildren.

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