Since the death of our son, Mark, about two weeks before Thanksgiving I begin to struggle with anxiety, irritableness, an inability to maturely handle conflict and unexpected circumstances. Chuck always reminds me that the holidays are coming and I miss Mark. Twenty years after his death, The grief is not as intense but it's always there. Just remembering this helps me better handle life and all that the holidays bring.
10 Practical Tips for Grief Relief During Christmas
There are some practical ways grieving people can help themselves navigate the holidays as well as help friends and broken children experience the joy of Christmas in the context of grief.
Here are some of the intentional steps I tried to take early in our grief journey and still incorporate into our lives. For more of our journey to Christmas in the midst of grief, I invite you to also listen to us candidly talk about how we faced Christmas that first year without our son, Mark, in our interview: Preparing for Christmas in the Darkness of Grief.
1. Give yourself permission to grieve
Grieve for what was so that you can accept that the holidays will never be the same. With that acceptance, give yourself permission to enjoy what is and look for new treasures.
2. Cut your expectations in half or more.
Minimize the Christmas clutter - decorations, baking cookies that you will most likely throw out. It’s ok to leave most of the Christmas decorations in the attic.
3. Avoid overeating and using food as an emotional crutch.
Speaking of those cookies. Sugar highs and lows contribute to raging emotions. It will have the opposite affect of helping you feel better. Choose to eat healthy foods, and stay hydrated, especially if you are crying a lot. Be disciplined when it comes to your children, especially those who are grieving, no matter the reason. Stay as close to their schedule as possible and limit the sweets.
4. Get moving.
Chuck advises people struggling with depression: "If you're lying down, sit up. If you're sitting up, stand up. If you're standing, walk. If you're walking, run. In other words, force yourself to get moving." Better yet, ask a friend to meet you at the park and walk and talk or cry. But get moving.
5. Recognize that you are emotionally raw.
Be ready to forgive and to be forgiven. If you are grieving a loved one, take your regrets to Jesus and accept His forgiveness as well as His love that covers every sin. If someone hurts you, be ready to forgive as you have been forgiven.
6. Cut back on activities but do not isolate yourself.
If large groups are difficult, plan time with a few trusted friends, but do not withdraw. God created community for such a time as this. Receive the gift of relationships and allow them to be part of your healing.
7. Plan ahead and know what might trigger painful memories.
Think through the events and traditions that will be too painful and look for ways of creating that "new normal." We changed how we spent our first Christmas without our son, Mark. I share a lot of the details in my book, Treasures in Darkness, A Grieving Mother Shares Her Heart. Granted, the enormous pain remained, but we were comforted by leaning into the pain.
8. Lean into the pain - acknowledge it, don't avoid it.
Acknowledge you are grieving. Give yourself permission to cry, to allow others to see your grief. And if you are looking for ways to help a grieving friend, these few whispered words, "I miss him, too." will break the ache in your friend's heart. Just acknowledging a friend's pain frees them to experience the moment. If you are helping a child grieve, don't minimize their grief by telling them they have so much to be grateful for. Acknowledge their pain and their "right" to feel the pain. And then gently help them embrace the good by turning their attention to something fun.
9. Help someone else.
Yes, you are broken and feel helpless and hopeless, and it will be hard to offer help and hope to another. But God's grace enables us and in some supernatural way, uses that very service to strengthen our hearts. And, if you help and your emotions are unchanged, take joy in knowing you served in obedience to our Lord.
10. Spend time with Jesus.
This one should be first, but see it as the foundation of all the other tips. You are so vulnerable to His voice and love because you are so broken. He promises to be “near the broken-hearted.” There are "treasures in the darkness, riches stored in secret places" that He has for you - that I believe we do not experience in the light. Be on the lookout for those treasures designed to turn your heart toward Him. He wants you to remember that He calls you by name and He is your Lord.
We can't run away from Grief. It is our constant companion. But there comes a day when Joy slips in and slowly but surely looks for ways to overshadow the ghost of Grief. Be intentional by making way for Joy. Little steps - Grief will not run away, but you might just catch yourself embracing Joy.
Sharon W. Betters, wife of Dr. Chuck F. Betters, mother of 4, grandmother of 14, and Executive Director of MARKINC Ministries. Visit Sharon’s blog, Treasuresofencouragement.org where you can find more grief relief in your own journey to Christmas and encouragement for every day life.
Publication date: December 8, 2015