Surviving the Holidays During a Season of Loss

For some families, being “happy” or “merry” during the holiday season is a difficult prospect at best. For those who have experienced recent loss, whether it has been the death of a loved-one or a divorce, the holidays can intensify the sense of loss among family members and make attempts to celebrate a chore, rather than a joy.

If you or your kids are in the midst of a painful season of life, or struggle with the memories of the way life used to be, here are some practical suggestions for navigating the holidays.

1. Acknowledge your loss. Don’t try to sweep it under the carpet. It’s likely that your extended family and friends understand “the elephant in the room.” It’s okay to talk about the loss that you feel.

2. When you find it difficult to cope, ask for help. Most friends and family will be eager to share your burdens. If your loss is recent, people often will go out of their way to offer assistance and to lighten your load and include you in their celebrations. If you are comfortable, take them up on their offers. If your sense of loss is persisting over time, consider seeing a counselor who can help you to process grief in healthy ways.

3. Give God your burdens. He is well acquainted with grief. Look to Him for comfort. He’s trustworthy. He wants to help.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. –Isaiah 53:3a

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. –Matthew 11:28

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. –1 Peter 5:7

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. –Psalm 91:1

4. Think about which of your holiday traditions will give comfort to you and your kids, and which ones will hurt. Some families find that keeping some traditions, even if difficult, are comforting. Others may need to set aside some family traditions for a season, and do something completely new and different. It is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge what is beyond your present capacity. For example, if you’ve hosted an extended-familyThanksgiving or Christmas dinner for years, and you’ve just experienced a recent loss, everyone will understand if you pass the hosting duties to another member of the family this year.

5. Surround yourself with loving people. Sometimes, particularly after a recent loss, being around people beyond your immediate family during the holiday season can be difficult and exhausting. But isolating yourselves completely can be more difficult because it intensifies feelings of loss and loneliness. Seek a healthy balance based on your feelings and circumstances. If you can, spend lots of time with your closest family members. Look to spend time with extended family, with friends, and with people in your church community.

6. Try helping others. I believe that one of the best ways that families can find comfort and get beyond pain is to focus attention on others. Rally your kids and volunteer together to help with your church’s holiday outreaches and events, or sign up to help at a local soup kitchen. Making a donation to a charitable organization in the name of a loved one can also provide a measure of comfort.

7. Take life one day at a time. You don’t have to worry about what the holidays will look like five years from now. You have enough on your plate today. Take care of yourself and your kids this year. In time, you’ll figure out the future. You may return to some of your old holiday traditions and it’s likely you’ll create some new ones.

8. Enjoy what you can. Throw holiday season expectations out the window for now. Enjoy what you can and don’t worry about the rest. Don’t feel guilty about experiencing any joys you find this holiday season. If you’ve recently lost a loved-one, he or she would want you to experience all of the love, joy, and comfort you possibly can.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, editor, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord Culture Blog also appears on Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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