person with Santa hat staring out window into the rain

The Gift of Grief at Christmas

 December 15, 2021

This post on the gift of grief was first published five years ago after the death of my stepfather. It remains relevant, especially in light of the deaths our world has experienced from COVID 19. If you are one of the many people missing a loved one this holiday season, I hope this post helps you through these days.

Skipping Christmas

“I wish I could just skip Christmas this year,” my eighty-five-year-old mom tells me. She lost her second husband this past September and while they had been married less than five years, the pain remains. As her daughter, I feel for her and worry about her, but it is not the same as when my dad died eight years ago. It’s hard for me to work up a lot of sympathy for my mom because, after all, he wasn’t my father and he hadn’t been married to my mom for the fifty-five years that she had shared with my dad.

A friend of mine’s dad died just before Thanksgiving this year, leaving her lost without the man in her life who holds a place no-one else can hold and no-one can fill. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to complete the book on grief that I have planned on writing for three years. I’ve been rereading books on grief and wishing I had written this years ago when I was teaching courses on grief counseling and the material was fresh in my mind. But then wasn’t the time, hopefully now is as I strive to get this book out of my head and onto paper.

I’ve reread C.S. Lewis’, A Grief Observed, and Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Two Part Invention, on her marriage to Hugh Franklin and his death from cancer. Both lost spouses to cancer, however, Lewis was still young in his love for Joy Davidman when she died, having been married for a short time, whereas L’Engle lost her husband after forty years of marriage. Both grieved tremendously, but in different ways, unique to their own personality and their differing situations. A reminder to me that the face of grief is as varied as the people involved.

Grief is Work

Grief is hard work. It takes time and energy. The holidays and memories of past holidays and all you have lost make this work harder. The pressure to be “merry” may leave you feeling like crawling into a hole and only coming out after the holidays are over. People experiencing grief often want to get through the pain as quickly as possible. But try though you might, you can’t make the days go by any faster and you can’t just jump over the month of December to skip the holiday.

What you can do is not let the holidays and the pressure to celebrate run your life or ruin each day. As C.S. Lewis said, “The pain now is part of the happiness before. That’s the deal.” If you are feeling sorrow, it is precisely because you loved the deceased. It’s all part of the package. You can’t have one without the other.

The Gift of Grief

Unwrap the gift of grief slowly and intentionally, or rip it open quickly. Whatever works for you. The grief you feel is a gift, a gift no-one wants, but a gift none-the-less. It is proof that you have loved and loved deeply. Keep traditions that you want to preserve, but don’t be afraid to let go and create new ones. If having a Christmas tree is a painful reminder of trees you decorated together, then forego a tree this year. If you don’t feel up to going to parties you once attended together, then stay home or opt for a small gathering of friends and/or family. Sometimes grieving requires time alone to allow your feelings to surface; other times, being with friends and family is a needed break from the work of grieving. Be open to both.

The loss of a loved one is acutely felt over the holidays.  Other losses, such as the loss of health or loss of employment, also cry out for attention with their own need to be grieved. Sometimes this requires a rethinking of Christmas traditions in order to give yourself the time you need to heal.

What about you? What are you grieving this December? How might this be a gift to you? What do you need to do to get through the holidays?

 

Walking with Families Through Grief

The book I was working on at the time of the original post, Walking with Families through Grief, is now available for sale. If you are experiencing grief this Christmas, it can help you get through the hard work to new life. Click here for more information. And if I can help through prayer and support, let me know. Email me, patricia@patriciamrobertson.com


 

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