One of our favorite things about She’s Intentional is having the opportunity to share the lives of Apostolic ladies who are living their lives with Intention, living a modest and holy lifestyle and ultimately, living lives that bring glory to the King! In this holiday season, we know grief + loss are a very present real feeling among many of us, and we’ve asked Chelsea Hall, Marriage & Family Therapist Intern to share with us a few helpful ways to get through the holidays from a Counselor’s perspective.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays filled with so many wonderful things, most notably the time and traditions we share with family and friends. But for many people the holiday season will be a bitter-sweet thing this year, due to important losses. Some may have lost a loved one to death or changed relationships, or have lost a sense of security due to changing circumstances. . Whether it’s the first year or it has been decades, the holidays bring a special longing and pain for those people and places absent from us.
As Christians we hold a special promise of never having to walk through the valley of grief alone, and we know that Jesus understands the pain of grief. Sometimes though, our grief state causes us to feel isolated, even from Jesus. We don’t often understand why our loved one was taken, and during the very time we celebrate the good gifts He gives us, and His arrival on earth as a child, we may struggle with what seems to be a betrayal of our trust that “He does all things well.” This is the reason I want to share with you some of the things that I’ve learned in my own grief process, through my experiences as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and through learning what others have found true in their times of mourning during the holidays.
First we’ll start with a brief definition of grief. Grief is a natural response to loss; also, a deep sorrow, especially one caused by someone’s death. We experience grief because we have appreciated and attached to something or someone, and we feel the loss of that keenly.
“Grief is not a disorder or a sign of weakness.
It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.
The only cure for grief is to grieve.”
~ Earl Grollman
It’s important that we realize that we often grieve over losses other than death, such as moving across the country, a divorce, loss of a friend, even loss of a pet. Regardless of what kind of loss we’ve suffered, the process of grieving is always unavoidable and unpredictable. It is unavoidable because God created our bodies to operate in such a way that under distress the body forces us to slow down by releasing hormones that lead us to feel down and tired and to cease activity. This gives us time to process our pain and separation, and to heal from the wound of the loss. In addition, our feelings and reactions can be unpredictable in grief: when we expect to feel sad we might laugh at a fond memory, a small comment can trigger a flood of tears or pain. We often fight these feelings as inconvenient and uncomfortable, but that simply makes the grieving process more difficult than if we would accept the unpredictability and run to God when we become overwhelmed. We must allow ourselves to grieve the loss or we risk locking up all of our best emotions and love along with the pain we wish to avoid. Grief is one way that we are enabled to keep the lessons and love of our loved ones close; without grief we would have few reminders of them.
The most important thing I can share with you is that while grief can take many different forms, the purpose is always the same—to find meaning and purpose in your changed circumstances. Grief helps us take the time to find a way to carry out the gifts and plans God has trusted us with, even during and through the time of loss and transition. In therapeutic circles this process is called “Re-membering” because we take the memories we have of the loved one and repeat them and insert them into our lives in meaningful ways. Re-membering is an intentional process that helps us to reduce the anxiety and overwhelming nature of the distressing side of grief.
At the holidays sometimes traditions and celebrations seem so meaningless without the ability to share them with the loved one. Some people decide not to celebrate at all to avoid handling the pain of it. But I would like to remind you of why we celebrate holidays and let you know how wonderful it can be to bring your memories of your loved ones into the celebrations.
Re-Membering the Holidays
The majority of Christians expect to experience joy and happiness during the holidays, and that can cause mourners to feel ostracized as they are not always experiencing joy. I would like to Re-member the Holidays for you so that you can see the part that grief plays in our holidays. And I would like to help you to find ways to Re-member Your Loved One during the holidays.
You might not realize it but most of our holidays were initiated as a result of a time of grief. Thanksgiving was created after a year of extreme hardship for the pilgrims in America. So many of the pilgrims died from illness, starvation and hardship, that those left had difficulty carrying on. But when God blessed their harvest that fall the pilgrims held a celebration to commemorate the favor God showed to them, and also to promise to fulfill the dreams of those who had passed on by celebrating their survival in a new land of religious and personal freedoms. In a much deeper way, at Christmas we celebrate the fact that God came to earth in order to heal the great grief and rift between humanity and himself caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. The grief of Jesus’ earthly family at his death on Calvary, and their sudden joy and renewed sense of purpose upon his resurrection are a reminder to us that though our grief lasts for a time, we have the hope of seeing our loved ones again. Also that grief will birth new purpose in us when its time is completed.
So as you go through this holiday know that grief is very much a part of these celebrations and that it is okay if you don’t feel all of the joy you would expect or want to feel this year. You are still apart of the season as much as others, and there will be future seasons when joy comes more easily.
Re-Membering Your Loved One
Our loved ones are so multi-faceted and such interesting beings. As spiritual, emotional, and social beings there is so much more to them that the physical body that is now gone. They had their likes and dislikes, preferences for certain kinds of food, favorite hobbies or jokes, nicknames for their friends and families, and your treasured memories together. Our physical separation is such a shocking blow that we try to go on with life without them, rather than intentionally keeping them and their lessons close through our daily activities. (This is partly why allowing tears, laughter, anger or pain or numbness to occur freely in grief is important, it allows us to process and acknowledge the loss.) It is important to keep the lessons and love we shared with those passed on close to us during mourning, and especially at the holidays.
In life we made memories with our loved one’s by spending time with them, doing things that they liked, working, talking, and eating together. When we Re-member them we take time to do all of those same things in their memory, and we share these activities with others as a way of passing on the wisdom and love they gave the world.
Re-membering your love one at the holidays can be challenging but there are many special ways to do it. Please don’t underestimate the importance of sharing your memories and allowing others to help share the emotional burdens you are carrying. Sometimes grieving means making necessary adjustments to activities and traditions to accommodate the different energy levels and emotional stresses you might be experiencing. Many people find comfort in continuing with the same traditions to keep continuity, some find comfort in creating new traditions, and others find it important to reduce the number of activities they engage in over the holidays. Pray and consult with your family and friends, and feel free to make the choices you need to make that help you to celebrate your loved one and the season in a healthy, emotionally supportive manner.
I have included some suggestions for Re-membering your loved on in the holiday season below. A few of them require you to share your ideas ahead of time with your family or friends, and some are things you can do on your own. Regardless of whether you maintain the same traditions or feel too exhausted or wounded to do so, be sure to share your grief with trusted friends, your pastor, your church family, and allow them to help you.
- Go around the table and have each one share one memory, lesson, or characteristic about the lost loved one they are grateful for
- Make copies of the loved one’s favorite holiday recipe to give to each person
- Have family and friends write on a tablecloth the things they are grateful for
- Donate to a church or charity in their name
- Put out a framed picture of the loved one in a special place in the house
- Make reservations at a restaurant, or order in the loved one’s favorite take out if family meal making is overwhelming this year
- Serve at a homeless shelter or foodbank
- Light a special candle, or put out a picture of them to join the celebration
- Eat their favorite foods
- Give gifts bought or made for the loved one to others in the family who would appreciate or treasure the item, and share about why that item was bought
- Put out special decorations they enjoyed
- Sing or play their favorite Christmas Carol
- Have each person present share their favorite Holiday memory about the loved one
Invite people from church or work that you know will be alone this holiday to celebrate with your family, or to a pre-holiday celebration. One last bit of advice: Be intentional about planning for your grief reactions: feel free to say no to extra social activities if they are too draining for you. Build in extra time for rest and quiet time after other activities, and practice comments about what to say if you become overwhelmed and have to make your exit. If you become overwhelmed take time to pray, read comforting scripture, breathe deeply, take actions for self-care and talk to someone. Call your pastor or a counselor if you feel you need extra help.
No matter what else you do this holiday I season I encourage you to celebrate your loved ones. If you are not experiencing grief this year, be sensitive and aware of those who are or might be. Offer help, be a listening ear, ask about their memories, and pray with them. You don’t have to have the right words, just be present. And for those of you that are experiencing grief, take the process to Jesus and give your loved one to Him. Daily, weekly, monthly. Don’t stop bringing your grief to the Lord. Allow your grief to draw you closer to others who are in situations of loss or wounding. Most of all remember to that Jesus came so that our grief could not possess us but so we could grow and death be not permanent.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” ~ Matthew 5:4, KJV
Praying peace and joy for you in this season,
Chelsea Hall is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in the State of California and has served the San Francisco Bay Area of California since 2010. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry In Pastoral Counseling and Congregational Care at Bethel Seminary, and holds a Master of Science degree in Counseling from California State University East Bay. She was raised in a pastors home and is active in several areas of her local church including worship ministry and teaching. Her desire is to serve congregations and clergy through providing support and consultation in the areas of counseling, conflict meditation, and personal development. Additionally she serves as Adjunct Professor for the Apostolic School of Theology, under the umbrella of Hope International University. Chelsea enjoys art, nature, reading, traveling, cultural experiences and learning, and especially serving the Lord through music and teaching.