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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Knapp

7 Practical Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season with Joy and Hope while Grieving.

As the Christmas Holiday season approaches, I look forward to family traditions, community events, and celebrations. I have wonderful memories of my childhood Christmases and many of when my children were small.

"But what happens when you are overwhelmed with the loss of a loved one, financial strain, the loss of a job or a critical illness that impacts your health? How can you celebrate when your heart is broken and grieving?"

The year my son died, I was anxious as the Christmas holidays approached. I knew there would be the expected celebrations and traditions, but I wasn’t sure how I could face the holiday in the midst of grieving my son’s death.

As the mom of the family, it was also my role to facilitate many of the details that went into each gathering, celebration, or feast. I knew the rest of the family still expected and deserved their traditional holiday celebrations, but I just wasn't sure I was capable of doing it all that first year.

Here are some things I learned that may help you:

  1. Have each member of the family identify one thing that makes the season special for them by asking them, "What would it not be Christmas without? My son wanted to make special cookies with me that we only make at Christmas time. My husband just wanted a family turkey dinner. I knew a decorated Christmas tree was important to me. By identifying what was important, we also knew what could be omitted that year. By doing this, it simplified the holiday and I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

  2. Plan ahead and schedule activities that are important to your family. Then say ‘no’ to anything that feels overwhelming. It is important to set boundaries for your time, energy, and emotions. Allow yourself some grace. Most people understand if you simply state that you aren’t up to too many gatherings during this time of grieving. Take time to rest, relax, and savour the activities most meaningful to you and your family.

  3. Anticipate triggers and plan for them. When preparing for that first Christmas without my son, I knew I would find certain things difficult. He always helped me assemble and decorate the Christmas tree. So I anticipated it would be difficult, and I chose a day when I felt I could handle the emotions and I asked my other son to assist me. I took the time to pause and reflect on certain ornaments as I trimmed the tree. I played soothing music. It was a precious and reflective time, making me thankful as I enjoyed the memories. Was it emotional? Yes. But I allowed myself to feel the feelings and let the tears flow. It was a very healing experience.

  4. Create new traditions or a new twist on an old one. Every year my children receive a new tree ornament with their name and the date on it. At first, I wasn’t sure what to do about an ornament for my son. Do I buy one or not? I decided I would still get one for him but with a twist: it would be an angel. So now, every year I search for a special angel Christmas ornament for him, write his name with the date, and place it on the tree to honour and remember him.

  5. Delegate. Contrary to the super-mom expectation of our society, you don’t have to do it all. Many friends and family want to help but may not know what to do or how to assist you in your grief. Ask for help. Or hire out help if you can afford it. Maybe ask family members to help with bringing food so you aren’t cooking the whole dinner yourself. Or hire a cleaning person to spruce up the house before guests arrive so you aren’t expending too much energy cleaning. Put your thought and energy into tasks that bring you joy or only you can do and delegate other tasks to family, friends, and paid help.

  6. Be flexible with your feelings. If you’re having a difficult day, allow yourself time and space to grieve. Be gentle with yourself. Also, realize you will have some good days but don’t feel guilty if you are feeling joy and gladness. Your loved one would want you to celebrate and be happy.

  7. Lastly, but most importantly, pray. Pour out your heart to God. He loves you and longs to comfort you. There is no shame in releasing all of your anger, fears, grief, and emotions to a God who understands. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus grieved even though He knew He would raise him from the dead. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 ESV). I didn’t hesitate to tell God what I thought or what I felt. I raged, I pleaded, I cried, and I hoped for relief from the pain of heartbreak. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 ESV)

By allowing myself to feel my grief and letting God minister to my spirit through the Christmas story, I could find joy again. By honouring my memories, I could see hope through my tears in creating new memories and traditions for myself and my family.

May you find peace, hope, and joy this Christmas season. Allow God to reach through your grief and pain to bring you the fullness of joy that comes from knowing Him. Celebrate Jesus this season and allow His peace to comfort you and bring you the true joy which can only be found by knowing Him.

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