If you’re grieving the death of a loved one during the holidays, you may be wondering how you’ll survive. Maybe you can’t stop crying or you are grieving how different the celebration will be without them. Maybe you feel the aching emptiness that everything has changed and nothing will ever be ok again.
I’ve been on both sides of grief and it does get easier.
Our family holidays were memorable because my parents did more than decorate and bake. They made people feel loved. Our tables were filled, groaning with sumptuous feasts, surrounded by family or anyone who needed one. Mom had a knack for finding those who had no place to go during the holidays. She gathered them to our loud, chaotic, music filled celebrations which usually ended with my sisters and I singing in 3-4 part harmony. Dad took a genuine interest in our guests and knew the life stories of everyone there within a few hours. He remembered them too.
We had challenges like every family but we loved each other fiercely.
Then everything came crashing down.
About 10 years ago, our beautiful, vivacious mom died of stage 4 cancer. My brother had died only 2 years earlier and the grief of both losses at once was too much for Dad. We were still reeling from Mom’s death when Dad was diagnosed with cancer and died within months.
All the words I use to describe my feelings during the time – orphaned, devastated, lost – are inadequate. It was a nightmare but my eyes were already open. I felt surrounded by people but alone in my grief. There was a constant weight on my chest and I struggled to breathe. I wondered if I’d ever laugh or be happy again.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does give you the space to heal.
Since then I’ve worked hard to heal from the pain of these losses. These days, my thoughts about my parents are mainly grateful and happy.
Yet cooler temperatures bring a flood of memories that make my heart ache and my eyes tear. Images of holidays, feasts, music, mom’s birthday swirl through my head. Our family – keeping watch over my mom while she took her last breaths in the home we’d grown up in, my sisters and I alternately singing to her, grieving silently or weeping.
Faith doesn’t mean a life without pain.
There are those who think grieving the death of loved ones shows a lack of faith. That’s not true. When someone you love dies, it hurts. Their physical absence from daily life is huge. You miss the things you loved about them. You grieve the things you hated but can never resolve.
Trusting God doesn’t erase real life, the pain of loss. Jesus grieved when his friend Lazarus died. He wept with his friends.
For me the lesson from Jesus is – have faith but allow yourself to grieve.
Life isn’t over but it will look different and it can be good.
Grieve your loved one in your own way. If you don’t feel like celebrating this year, it’s ok to cry, to feel lost, to miss them desperately. You don’t have to have it all together to make anyone else feel better.
When you’re ready, it’s ok to laugh as you remember the best parts about them. It’s ok to dry your eyes and join whatever the gathering looks like this year.
The celebration will look different than it did before. It might feel weird. You can’t recreate it the same way without them. They made the experience unique with their presence and you aren’t them. That moment has passed.
You aren’t betraying them by living and being happy. It’s time to be part of something new.
You can do this.