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Mental Health

Grief and the Holidays

Written by
Katie Thrush
Image used with permission by Pixabay.

In the past 14 months, I have lost 5 people in my life. I won’t sugarcoat it - it has been unbearable at times. Last October, my husband lost both grandparents on his mother’s side within 12 days of each other. On the way to one of the funerals, I received a phone call that my grandfather on my father’s side had passed away in his sleep. We had gone from mourning my husband’s grandparents to losing my grandfather. On December 4, 2022, we tragically lost my father-in-law from an aortic dissection that killed him instantly. The pain I’ve experienced over the past 14 months has rocked my family to our core.

Losing loved ones is difficult to effectively explain. It is a profound loss of the individual, but also their influence, purpose, and presence in your life. C.S. Lewis published a book, A Grief Observed, to capture his experiences and feelings about the death of his wife. Lewis describes that “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” They became close to you in more ways than one. To deeply love someone and to experience the heartache of experiencing life without them can be difficult to navigate - especially when the holiday season is approaching.

My hope is that these words can be a guide for you or someone in your life who feels as though they are “going through the motions” this holiday season. I’ve come up with four guiding points to lead us in a forward direction instead of wondering what to do when we feel stuck in our grief. As a church community, we do not need to go through difficult seasons alone. We are reminded in the book of Matthew “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). May you find comfort wherever you are in this season.

The Holidays Will Be Different

Holidays are a time of traveling or preparing your house for festivities, indulging in good food and even better conversations, experiencing traditions that have been passed on from generations, and remembering the comfort of harboring quality time spent with those you love. However, for those who are entering into a new season of holidays without their family or friends, it can feel unsettling. To not see our family members taking their seats at the dining table, the Christmas cards we looked forward to receiving, or the recipe that makes us remember our loved ones. The truth of the matter is that life will not look as it once did before – but that doesn’t mean the holidays can’t be meaningful or beautiful in new ways.

With a little bit of trust and stepping out of our comfort zones, we can incorporate new traditions, volunteer in community outreach projects, create or decorate ornaments for our loved ones, bring a meal to someone we love, or many other ways we can find joy during the holidays. Engaging in activities like these can not only help us, but it can make huge impacts in our community and beyond!

Joy and Sadness Can Intersect

You have permission to feel joy and sadness during the holiday season. Grief is not linear and does not go away overnight. In fact, it’s normal to feel this. The holidays usually hold special memories of our loved ones. Personally, I find comfort in certain sayings that my grandfather would say to me and finding old cards I received from him during the Christmas season. It reminds me that I had someone who loved me deeply and knowing that makes the sting of loss a little less painful. Honor your feelings, whether it’s a time of grief or finding peace in this season.

If you need some ideas for how to honor or remember your loved ones, here are some great examples from grief.com:

Avoid Isolation

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)

One of the most dangerous things to do in times of grief is to isolate yourself from friends and family. God calls us to be with one another, through the good and bad times (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).  We fear that going to those family gatherings can open our barely healed wounds or that attending that Christmas party will only create awkward conversations. The thought of hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” one more time can bring more hurt than comfort. The fear of the unknown can feel debilitating and can cause us to retreat to the comfort of our homes.

When we isolate ourselves, we create more space for loneliness and shame in our lives. Friends, we need a community to pick us up when we feel that we’ve got nothing left to give. We need our people to meet needs that still need to be met. We need shoulders to cry on when days get hard. In Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong, Brene reminds us that, “We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” C. S. Lewis wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” We can’t rise strong when we’re on the run.” Where we see loneliness and perhaps empty spaces, God intervenes and provides comfort to the brokenhearted.  

Remember God’s Promises

If we can rest on just one thing that will never fail, never leave, never change, and never abandon, it is the promises our Savior gives us. To have a friend in Jesus is to know that no matter our circumstances, shortcomings, questions, or anger we have, God will meet our needs. Even when we don’t know what it is we need, we can take comfort in the fact that He knows our needs even before we do (Psalm 139:4). God meets us and invites us to draw near to Him at all times, especially in our times of lament.

In our sermon series, Worship Matters, our groups and teaching pastor, Nathanael Sommers, brought into perspective how the practice of lament is a form of worship to God. Nathanael goes so far to say that “you can feel the depths of your sorrow and trust in God. Lament does not mean the pain goes away. Lament opens your eyes so you can see the arms of God that have been embracing you the entire time.” What a comfort it is to know that we are held exactly where we are by a God who loves His children deeply and cares for each of them. God helps us in our weakness, even when we aren’t sure what it is we need, and even if we cannot make sense of our prayers and requests to Him (Romans 8:26).

In closing, I will leave you with another form of worship in a litany. If you are not familiar with this practice, litanies can be used as a prayer for help, thankfulness, blessing, or praise. In this litany, we remember those we have lost, but will never be forgotten. May you find joy and peace, and remember God’s continual promises He’s set out for you and your future.

We Remember Them

At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs
; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.
— Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer

About the Author

Katie Thrush is an active member in Women’s Groups, Women’s Leadership Board, Worship Arts, and Community Engagement at Grace Fishers. Katie also is a proud wife to David Thrush and has two little girls, Aria and Emery Thrush. She enjoys writing, gardening, baking, working out, and reading in her free time. Katie is an alumni of Taylor University with a bachelor's in Christian Education with a minor in Biblical Literature. She also is currently in seminary at Grace Theological Seminary (Winona Lake, IN) pursuing her Master of Arts in Ministry Studies.