Surviving Christmas as you grieve

“I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.”

Christmas 2010. Our first without David. I’ll never forget it.  Christmas is supposed to be a joyful, happy time, but tell that to my heart. The only thing I wanted I couldn’t have.

Everything that I had done in previous years to prepare for Christmas was something I began to dread.  None of it felt right.  I had no idea how I would get through it all.  It felt like I was being torn between feeling such sadness and yet, knowing I should be focusing on the birth of Jesus, which is why we celebrate Christmas to begin with.  How would I be able to celebrate when I felt so sad? I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.

If you’ve experienced loss you may be feeling the same way about Christmas. It can be a sinking feeling of hopelessness, dread, and anger . You try not to let your defenses down because if you do, you fear you could fall into an endless pit of sadness. That’s how I felt back then anyway. I’d been in that pit far too many times, so I avoided thinking about all of it, but in reality there was no way to avoid it. Christmas would come whether David was here or not.

My anticipation of our first Christmas without David brought with it one of the most loving whispers from God I have ever encountered, and I will never forget it; “You can mourn the loss of your son and still celebrate the birth of mine.”… “You can mourn the loss of your son and STILL celebrate the birth of mine.”…  it was okay for me to experience all of these conflicting emotions.

During a time when I was paralyzed with sadness God gave me this promise, an eternal perspective that I desperately needed to claim through John 3:16-17…

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent His Son into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”

I believe God was simply reminding me that through the pain and sadness I feel because my son is not here, I need to focus on His Son now more than ever… because it is Jesus’ life, His death on the cross and His resurrection that give me the assurance of where David is right now.

I’ve heard this verse so many times before, but here’s the reality of it as I read it now; David is living out this promise from God. I know that his last breath on earth was his first breath in Heaven. I also know that when I die Jesus will be there to greet me…and David will be right behind Him. I-will-see-David-again.

What’s even more amazing? The same Jesus that walks with David right now in Heaven, is the same Jesus I placed my trust in when I was 17. We both share whom we celebrate on Christmas! This has given me tremendous comfort.

Christmas 2010 was spent with family in Wisconsin. We attended Christmas Eve service at a small church in the north woods. It was hard, but as the Pastor shared the Christmas story I listened much more intently. I needed to be reminded, even though I’d heard it many times over the years. While the tears shed that night were tears of anguish, missing my David, they were also tears of joy, celebrating the birth of the One Who was born for me, died for me, and who lives in me.

I know this won’t be easy. It still hurts. Take it minute by minute. Pray and ask God to help you.

If you would like help as you grieve, GriefShare is a wonderful resource. We can’t control when our emotions will take us over during the holidays.  If this happens, excuse yourself and just take time to cry. If possible, drive separately to your family gatherings. This way you can leave early if you need to. Check out their website for more helpful suggestions.

Dear Friend,

This is sad time for a lot of people, but in the midst of your loss there is joy to be found as we celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s okay to experience anguish as you guide your heart to find joy in the Savior’s birth. I found that anguish and joy are intertwined quite often as we search for peace through our loss. I pray you will cling to the hope of Christmas as you grieve. His name is Jesus. I’m still praying for you.  See you next time.

Promises

John 3:16-17       Romans 10:9

I love the simplicity of  Luke 2:9-14 as told by Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Be Thankful. Reclaim lost joy. Repeat.

Intentionally giving thanks guides our hurting hearts forward.

The holiday season trifecta kicks off today with Thanksgiving. It’s a happy time filled with family, food and being thankful, right?  Let’s be honest, this may not be true for you. In fact, if you’ve lost someone, no matter how recent the holidays can be hard.

You may not feel like socializing with family because someone is missing and it’s hard to pretend otherwise. The elephant in the room tip toes around this fact, but elephants don’t tip toe. Just sayin. It’s hard on us and everyone else around us. They’re hurting too.

They know you’re in pain as you pass the potatoes, try to engage in conversations you’ve zoned out of, or as you grab another adult beverage. There’s nowhere to hide. You just want the day to be done, and as you drive back home, the smile you managed for the duration of the gathering slowly fades away.

Do the words “thankfulness” and “grieving” even go together? I’d say they’re opposites, but I believe these two emotions can be weaved together in a way that can help us in our suffering.

Intentionally giving thanks guides our hurting hearts forward. I know if I avoid this for long periods of time, my heart will become stagnant, preventing me from moving forward while also prolonging my healing.

I knew there were things to be thankful for after we lost David, I just didn’t want to think about them. The weight of the scale didn’t tip toward thankfulness. It tipped toward loss. How could I muster up a spirit of thankfulness, not just on this day but the remaining 364?

As I was preparing for this post, something struck me. I think it’s incredible really. The first time my husband Mike and I acknowledged thankfulness after losing David was the second night after he died. Mike held me tight that night and thanked God for “getting us through the day.” Consequent prayers were the same, “God, Thank-you for getting us through another day.”

This went on for months, and I’m so thankful (there’s that word again) that Mike was even able to do this!  Wow! We were pleading for God to help us through this nightmare while at the same time thanking Him for sustaining us while we were smack dab in the middle of it all. Weird huh?… Could God have been hearing us and answering our prayers simultaneously? It would certainly seem so. To this day, Mike still prays these words each night.

My list has slowly grown, but instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I discovered I could be thankful for what I’d been given and what I currently had to be thankful for.

I have family and friends who love me and depend on me. I smile more now. I laugh more. There was a time when I couldn’t even tap my foot to music. I can do that now. I can get lost in beautiful sunsets. It took me a while to smile and laugh every time we passed a farmer’s field with cows standing in farm ponds, but I can now. More importantly, I also need to thank to God for the 18 years we had with David, 18 precious years I will always treasure.

Look, I know this doesn’t bring our loved ones back, but little by little it does bring much-needed relief to our souls. I’ll be praying for you. Let’s do this together; Be Thankful, Reclaim lost joy. Repeat.

Check out the GriefShare website for helpful ways to cope during the holidays. https://www.griefshare.org/

 

Dear friend,

I pray you will search for things to be thankful for today and every day, even if it’s a short list. No matter. It’s a start. Thankfulness turns our pain into hope for our future. It takes our focus off what we don’t have and replaces it with what we do. It brings back the joy we thought we’d lost the day our loved one died.

Though our lives have been devastated by our loss, we can know that we know that with each day that passes we are reminded that it’s one more day God has gotten us through. Hey, this could go at the top of your list. Grab a pen. Let’s get started…

Promises

Psalm 118:24     Psalm 118:28-29