We love to commemorate firsts – a first step, first tooth, first homerun, and first date. Even first broken bones have been marked at our house by special recognition.

Not all firsts, however, are the kind you feel like celebrating, like the first time you lose a loved one. The year 2000 was like that for both me and my husband. Within three months, both his mother and my precious step-father went home to be with the Lord. It was the first time either of us had lost a parent and the first time the kids had to say goodbye to a grandparent. For all of us, it was just the beginning of a long road of firsts without the ones we loved.

As the holidays approached, we all wondered what Christmas would be like without Grandma Tera and Grandpa Cliff. It had been three months since we said goodbye, but the grieving felt fresh. Facing the holidays seemed a long and lonely journey; a journey others could not take with us.

Then one day I opened my mailbox to find a card from a friend. She had lost her father two years before and wrote that she knew that we would be facing difficult days as Christmas approached. Since she had met my dad, she took the time to reflect on his pleasant manner and quick sense of humor, all to say that he was indeed missed. She concluded by assuring me that my family was in her prayers. Then she added a postscript: "But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus…for the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." 1Thessaslonians 4:13-18

Those words were comforting and came when the weight of grief seemed heaviest. It was a sweet remembrance given by someone who took time, always in short supply during the holidays, to bear some of our burden.

Is someone you know experiencing a difficult first this Christmas? You can offer comfort and encouragement by reaching out with sweet remembrances. Below is a list of ideas to consider. Remember, these are not just things you can do for a close friend or family member. Reach out to neighbors, church members, coworkers and even casual acquaintances that are facing a difficult time of transition. The simplest gestures you make during the emotional holidays will be sweet to them indeed.

• First, don’t be afraid to mention the person they have lost. Nothing is worse than thinking everyone has forgotten the one you loved.

• Mention specific memories you have of that person.

• Mail an encouraging card. Include scriptures that are appropriate to their situation.

• Invite him or her to lunch or coffee and be a good listener. Some great questions are, "How are you really doing?" and "What are you struggling with most?" So many people avoid the subject of grief that you may find your friend is longing to talk with someone about what they are going through.

• Send a note to children who have lost their grandparents. A good time would be when they accomplish something their grandparent would have enjoyed seeing. Remind them how proud their grandparent was of them.

• Put the person’s name or picture on the refrigerator and pray during the holidays.

• Make a donation to a cause that their loved one cared about, then send a note to tell your friend what was done in their memory.

• Place flowers at the front of the church in their loved ones memory.

• Encourage other friends to mail notes throughout the Christmas season.

• Be available.

God entered the world that first Christmas to carry a burden we could not carry ourselves. What a wonderful season to do the same for others.

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For ideas to help your family focus on the meaning of Christmas, check out Redeeming the Season (Focus on the Family and Tyndale House). Copyright 2004 by Kim Wier and Pam McCune. Pick up a copy online or at your local bookstore for more in-depth information and ideas on celebrating this unique and spiritual holiday.

Kim Wier is the director of Engaging Women, a ministry of women encouraging women through speaking, writing and broadcasting. The author of four books, an award winning humor columnist and radio talk show host, Kim regularly speaks to audiences around the country with depth and humor that focuses on discovering God in the everyday experiences of life. For more visit www.engagingwomen.com.