Find Hope Despite Grief this Holiday Season

Whitney Hopler
Holidays are meant to be times of joyful, festive celebration. But when you're grieving, holidays are shrouded in sorrow, and the memories of past holidays with your deceased loved one only magnify your sense of loss.

This year, in a sense, all of us in the United States are grieving. Whether or not we've recently suffered the death of a relative or friend, the recent terrorism in our nation has dealt a death blow to our spirits, and only Christ can give us the hope we need to recover.

You may be dreading the upcoming holiday season. But if you work through your grief, you'll discover hope rising from the ashes of your pain. And that hope will enable you to celebrate again as you continue your life.

Here are some ways to deal with your grief during holidays:

  • Make sure you're getting enough sleep and exercise, eating nutritiously, and drinking enough water. When you take care of your body, you can handle stress much more effectively than if you have unmet physical needs.

  • Talk openly about your grief with others, and don't be afraid to cry or look sad. You need to honestly work through your feelings without the pressure of trying to pretend that you feel festive. Accept the love and support that others offer you, and thank them.

  • Keep your schedule light, but do participate in the holiday. Although it may be tempting to try to avoid your pain by throwing yourself into a whirl of activities or withdrawing completely from the holiday, neither extreme will prove helpful. Don't try to host a holiday event while you're grieving. But do accept a holiday invitation or two, letting the host or hostess know that you're grieving and may need to leave early. People should understand and be flexible.

  • Reflect on the ways you had previously celebrated holidays, then consider how you might observe them differently this year. Would it comfort you and help you honor your deceased loved one's memory to carry on an old tradition this year? Would it give you a better sense of your present and future to begin a new tradition? Maybe you'd like to keep some old traditions and eliminate others while incorporating some new ones. Remember that you have the power to choose what works best for you and any dependent children you might have. So think and pray about it, then plan in advance how you'd like to observe an upcoming holiday.

  • Trust in God's grace to get you through the holiday. Remember that God is always with you, and that the day will only last for a limited number of hours, then pass. If all you can do is survive it, that's okay at first.

  • Think about the underlying reasons for each holiday rather than just the activities associated with them. For example, when you prepare for Thanksgiving, don't focus on the meal and the fact that your deceased loved one's chair will be empty in the dining room. Instead, focus on what it means to be thankful to God, and consider the ways He has blessed you despite your current pain.

  • Plan some time just to be by yourself, thinking and praying. Although it's helpful to be surrounded by other people who care for you, you need some time alone as well.

  • Use the holiday to sort through your memories of your deceased loved one. Be honest with yourself as you recall his or her life and relationship with you, remembering both the good and the bad. Tell others stories about your memories, write a letter to your deceased loved one, go through old photos or letters that remind you of him or her, make your loved one's favorite food or sing his or her favorite song.

  • If you know your deceased loved one had a relationship with Christ, celebrate his or her new life with Him in eternity. Pray that you'll be able to reach heaven one day, too, and will be reunited with your loved one.

  • Think about your hopes and goals for the future. Make a list of some of them. Ask God to give you a vision of how He would like you to proceed with your life. Remember that you didn't die - you're still on earth because God still has purposes for you to fulfill here. Discover more about who you are as a person, independent of the relationship you had with your deceased loved one.

  • Find new ways to embrace the people around you. For example, you may have lost a spouse, but you likely still have many other important people in your life with whom you can share love. Work on building closer relationships with those who care about you, whether relatives or friends.

Adapted from The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions, copyright 2001 by Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge and Robert C. De Vries. Published by Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.,, 1-800-877-2665.

Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge (R.N., Ed.D.) is a clinical psychologist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Robert C. De Vries (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of church education at Calvin Theological Seminary and an ordained minister.

What are you grieving about as this holiday season approaches? How has God healed your pain after a past loss and enabled you to discover joy again? What encouragement would you like to offer others who are grieving? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.