BHealthy Blog

Dealing with Grief During the Holidays — Part One: It’s Normal

By Kay Hardin, Senior Staff Chaplain, Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock

Coping with the loss of someone we love is difficult anytime, but when it comes to the holidays, it seems our heartache can be magnified.

Kenisha lost her 8-year-old child a year ago. Wanting to pick up a few gifts for people at work, she walked into a department store full of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and happy families. Tears came faster than she could catch them. “All I could feel was the aching absence of my child who would have loved being a part of all the Christmas celebration and beauty. I ran back to my car vowing not to come back until January.”

Harold was an older widower whose wife died five years ago. His wife especially loved Christmas-time in their church, but Harold can’t be a part of anything Christmas anymore. It is too painful. He’d rather sit home alone in front of his TV. His friends tell him he needs to get out, especially during the holidays.

Heather lost her job, then her home, and finally her car. Soon she had to move into a friend’s spare room. Going home to her Thanksgiving family gathering is the last thing she wants to do. She doesn’t have the energy or interest to be around the laughter and storytelling at her family’s holiday table where everybody else is doing just fine.

The holidays and all that come with them can compound and accentuate a loss and grief. On top of that, sometimes our friends and family just don’t understand why we don’t want to “participate” or “engage” or “be more positive” because it’s supposed to be “the most beautiful time of year.” We don’t begrudge others their joy and happiness. We just can’t feel it for ourselves.

After his wife died, C.S. Lewis said in his book, “A Grief Observed”: “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says.” This can be especially true during a holiday season.

Holidays can be a painful reminder of the way it used to be. Such things as making Mom’s recipe for dressing, putting up the Christmas tree, unwrapping the stored ornaments, seeing cheerful families on holiday commercials and programs, hearing Christmas music, sitting down at the Thanksgiving table with one less chair, and walking alone into a church full of couples and families — all of this can bring a lump to our throat and agony to our heart.

During the holidays it can seem our grief almost becomes physical — our head hurts, our gut aches, our legs feel as heavy as lead. We stay exhausted.

If you are one who flips over the calendar and counts down the days until January 3 when it will all be behind you, take heart. You are not abnormal, weird, or a negative person. You are hurting in your journey of healing. You are searching for a way to cope within the sea of everything that’s opposite of your world and experience.

Gerald Sittser lost his mother, wife, and young daughter in a head-on collision. Afterward he wrote “A Grace Disguised” where he says: “I look with longing at pictures, think often about relationships I wish I had with each of my lost family members, and feel their absence every day, especially at important events like . . . holidays. The passage of time has mitigated the feeling of pain, panic, and chaos. But I am still not ‘over’ it; I have still not ‘recovered.’ I still wish my life were different and they were alive. But I have changed and grown.” Sittser validates a griever’s feelings and struggles and encourages us that there is hope during and after the holidays.

Coming soon, “Part 2: Constructive Christmas Therapy Thoughts” and “Part 3: How to Have Faith When Life Hurts” offering help in dealing with grief during the holidays.