Thanksgiving is often thought of as a joyous time of year, where we give thanks for our blessings, spend quality time with those we love, and we eat until we are seconds away from a food coma. For those of us who share in that experience, we are blessed. However, some of us feel quite different about the holidays, especially those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Celebrating a holiday after a significant loss can be an extremely painful experience. Although we may try to put on a big smile for those around us, there is still a part of us that feels empty or lost without that special person to share it with. If you are struggling with similar thoughts this holiday season, we wanted to offer some words of encouragement and support as a reminder that you are not alone.
First, we want to start by expressing to you that it’s okay to grieve because it demonstrates that the person you lost was a meaningful part of your life. Be honest with yourself about your feelings during this season. Pretending that you don’t miss a loved one doesn’t help anyone, nor does it make your feelings go away. Expressing ourselves might be considered an especially difficult task for those of us who are always expected to be the “strong” ones for the family, or are in an official leadership position like a pastor or community leader. Yet, titles or roles aside, you hurt just like anyone else, and need time to care for yourself as you remember your loved one. As tempting as it may be to bury your pain, masking your emotions by engaging in some form of an escape (ie: drinking, over-eating, excessive shopping) might offer you temporary relief from the pain. But, it can cause more damage in the end.
The holidays can also bring out a range of emotions for you, ranging from sadness to joy and guilt to anger. Be careful not to judge your feelings as good or bad. Give yourself permission to be present with your emotions, and when you are having a hard time processing them, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. In some cases, your family or friends may share the same struggles as you regarding this loss, so you can be there for each other as a source of support.
It is also crucial to set healthy boundaries for yourself during this season. If participating in a holiday tradition brings back too many painful memories from your past, don’t feel obligated to attend. Instead, maybe you can look at ways to create a new tradition for the holidays. Consider serving food at a soup kitchen, volunteering at a nursing home, or doing another act of kindness that was meaningful to your loved one, which can be a great way to honor them each year.
During a holiday dinner, you might also consider honoring that loved one by preparing their favorite dish, lighting a candle, sharing stories of your favorite memories, or lifting up a prayer before God about them. Any simple act that you do to feel connected to the spirit of your loved one can make the holiday feel more complete. Although we miss sharing the holidays with our loved ones, their memories don’t ever have to die. Part of their legacy can continue to live on through you.
The last but most important point that we must always hold on to is, God is looking over us during this time of struggle. Scripture tells us that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18. God is close to you in this very second and sees every tear you cry and hears every heartfelt prayer. Have peace in knowing that if there is no one else around to celebrate the holiday season with you, you are never alone.
Share this message with someone else who might need to hear it this holiday, and if you are seeking further encouragement on your journey, subscribe to our email list to become a part of the Faith on the Journey community.