Traditions. They are the little rituals passed down between generations that pull families together and make your family unique. Sometimes they happen by accident. Other traditions are purposeful. But all bring about memories, laughter, and unity.
My family has a plethora of traditions. On the 4th of July we gather to eat homemade ice cream and count the Roman candles that explode in the night air. Whenever the electricity goes out, we sit around the table and play the mystery board game, Clue.
Then there’s Christmas. So many traditions: from cutting down a tree to having specific places for everyone to sit when opening presents.
And then in a blink of an eye, life changes. Suddenly, instead of the traditions triggering positive memories, they are a reminder that something is wrong. A reminder that things are not the way they should be.
I remember the first Christmas without my sister. Everywhere I looked was a reminder that she was gone. Every gift purchased reminded me that I had one less to buy. Every meal meant one less plate, fork, and glass would be washed.
Contemporary Christian artist, Mark Schultz explains it so well in his song “Different Kind of Christmas.”
There’s one less place set at the table
One less gift under the tree
And a brand new way to take their place inside of me
I’m unwrapping all these memories
Fighting back the tears
It’s just a different kind of Christmas this year
As we examine the idea of an “Uncommon Christmas,” dealing with the weight of grief during the holidays may be “uncommon” to some. A stark contrast to all the joy and festive merriment of the season, grief is not an emotion displayed in store windows, on television commercials, and filling sale flyers. But, for many it is all too common and it places a weighted blanket on the joyful time. So, how does a family find joy in the holidays when grief is so heavy on their hearts? Living with grief for the past 15 years hasn’t made me an expert but it has taught me ways to bring joy back to the holidays.
1. Acknowledge the Grief and Loss
Acting like everything is fine will only hurt you further. Talk about the person who is missing. Take time to share favorite memories and stories. Whether from death, illness, divorce, or other interrupted expectation, the grief and pain is real, but ignoring your emotions is not helpful.
2. Modify Traditions
Since traditions were such a large part of our holidays, we had to modify them to acknowledge our new normal. We had to learn to include my sister’s memory in these new traditions. While this was excruciating and took time, it allowed her memory to stay alive during the holidays.
3. Let the Tears Flow When Needed
Tears yield healing. Don’t be ashamed when they quietly flow down your cheeks. And removing yourself from holiday celebrations for a few moments to release an ugly cry is okay too.
4. Be Real with Your Feelings
Let your friends and family know how you are feeling. They will be more compassionate and able to extend grace if they understand the battle taking place in your heart.
5. Find Support
Get to know others who are grieving. Their support can encourage and validate how you are feeling. In writing this article, I reached out to a dear friend who lost her mom to cancer. She shared several of these ideas, and tears, as we worked on this article. Because we understand the emotions we both have, we can affirm the difficulty we each face at holidays.
6. Cry Out to the Lord
Grief hits at unexpected times. Especially in those moments when it feels unbearable, the Lord is there as our Comforter waiting for us to call out to Him.
7. Serve Others
While it can be hard to find the energy, serving others takes the focus off of you and allows you to see that many are hurting. While it might not look the same as your grief, many are suffering from interrupted expectations.
Grief is brutal and holidays are just one more reminder of the pain. But I pray that even though you are walking through the valley, you are reminded this Christmas that the Lord is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18) and that God has promised us that He wipes away all tears. And, very soon “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). This alone brings joy to our holiday.