Some of us really look forward to the holidays, and then there are those of us who dread them. We dread them because of all the work they bring, all the money we have to spend, all the gifts we have to buy, all the pressure we have to endure, and all the people we have to see. But many of us, myself included, dread the holidays because of the grief they stir up in our souls.
The holidays are notorious for making people feel more stressed, lonely, isolated and certainly more depressed. One survey I looked at reported that 45% of the population actually dreads the holiday season. It really shouldn’t be this way, but it is. During the holiday season you may be tempted to think no one cares, especially God. You may feel as if your world is falling apart and God seems to be doing nothing about it. To make matters worse, we see everyone else enjoying family, friends and loved ones which leads us to feel more isolated and depressed, especially if we’ve lost someone precious.
How can we deal with all this pain? Can we ever enjoy the holidays again when our losses always seem to be at center stage? These are questions I’m asking myself this season because I still struggle with a deep and pervasive sadness since my husband died three years ago. This will be my third holiday and I have to confess I feel as frozen inside as I did on year one.
Perhaps this holiday season we can learn to shift lens and consider that in spite of our fears, sadness, and times of loneliness during the holiday season, we can find ways to connect with God, honor what we’ve lost, and move forward. How? First, by trying to give the holiday’s new meaning. This includes setting realistic expectations for yourself if you’re grieving. Realize that it can take years to overcome the pain these special occasions bring up, so be kind to yourself.
Surrender your expectations not only for the holidays but for the old life you wanted but have lost. I know I had lots of expectations about how my life would be in this season, and there is a huge incongruence between what I wanted and what I have. This causes me tremendous pain, so I have to work at being intentional about practicing gratitude for what still remains---- and so do you.
Another thing I decided to do was to take the words, should, ought to be, and have to be, out of my vocabulary for the holidays. I need to give myself a break. That means when I’m sad I let the tears come. I don’t tell myself I should be happy, or I ought to feel cheery. Tears are good for relieving the pent up emotions we feel.
If I’m sad I may write my journal to express my feelings. This holiday season I want to try and find ways to honor the memory of my husband. That can look different for all of us, but some of the things I’ve thought about include setting a special place at the table to honor him and having each person present say something memorable about him. You could also put up a special ornament. Carry on with an old tradition, or, start a new one in the memory of your loved one.
The most important thing to remember during the holidays is that you are not alone. Even though you may feel like it, the truth is God is right there with you and he will never leave you. He holds your loved one in his care according to his great and precious promises, and that is something to celebrate.