Dealing with Grief during the Holidays

By: Rev. Jennifer Herndon

If you are grieving this holiday season…

You aren’t alone.  Sometimes you look around and feel like the whole entire world is jolly and joyous, and you feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.  The Christmas lights, the music, the laughter… you want to soak it in, embrace the season (or maybe you don’t but you feel you have to) but no matter how hard you try, there is something missing.

I understand.  And you know what?  You don’t have to force it.  It’s okay to just be however you are, to let the holiday season be whatever it is this year.

Mark and I have decided we are only putting up the Christmas tree and the nativity.  We normally decorate the entire house in snowmen and multiple nativities and Santas and trinkets… this year that just sounds exhausting and truthfully, we probably wouldn’t even put up the tree except for our younger children.  So we have given ourselves permission to do it differently this year.  We won’t do all the normal traditions or attend or host all the usual holiday parties.  Christmas is our favorite holiday, but this year IS different.

Give yourselves the same permission.  You can say no to whatever you need to say no to and yes to whatever you need to say yes to.  Let your holiday season be different.  Some people won’t understand and will encourage you to make it seem as normal as possible.  Know they are trying to help you with the best of intentions, and appreciate their love and concern but ignore them – they don’t get it.  Some people WILL understand and will support you and come alongside to observe the holidays with you however you need to.  Give thanks for them and cherish their support.  Be alone when you need to be alone, be with loved ones when you need company.  Allow yourself to cry when you need to – but also allow yourself to feel joy and laugh when you need to. 

There is much in the Christmas season that will feel irrelevant to you this year.  When you lose someone or something that is so terribly important, it tends to strip away all the fluff – all the holly jolly consumerism – and leaves a gaping hole of real life that can only be filled with the heart of the Christmas story.  Underneath all the holiday trappings, there is a messy, dirty, smelly place tucked in among the animals where there is a feeding trough in which is found the hope Mark and I cling to fervently this year.  There is a small, helpless newborn who is somehow, wondrously, Immanuel – God with us.  God with us in the muck and mire and tears and horror and grief and long nights and long days… God with us.  God with me.  God with you.

On December 20th at 6:30 pm, at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita, I will lead a Service of Loss and Hope for those of us struggling to find our way through our grief to kneel at the manger.  If you are a fellow griever, come.  If you know someone who would benefit from this service, please invite them.  As I post this blog, I am praying for a gentle, peace-full Christmas rich with God’s presence for all of us.  Brave up and hero on, my friends. 

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