Dealing With Loss During the Holidays

My Dad loved to read. He was a picky reader and tended to stick to action books, mostly westerns. Of those, his favorite author was Louis L’Amour. He had most all of L’Amour’s books and read them over and over. I now have his yellowing and tattered collection of paperbacks. I try once a year to go through the box of books and settle on one to read as a way of remembering my Dad. I find comfort in knowing that my hands are holding books that his hands held. This time of year, many of us are looking for ways to deal with the losses we’ve faced along the way.

I spoke with a lady from our church today who, over the years, has lost her husband, brother, and others, all during the Christmas season. She admitted, “I hate to see this season roll around”. She’s not the only one. The holidays are difficult for a lot of people. Some of you are facing your first Christmas without a mom, Dad, grandparent, or child this year. The empty chair at the table can be enough to make us want to cancel Christmas dinner altogether.

Carrying the weight of our losses can quickly become overwhelming. We are tempted to build a wall in our mind and shut off our painful memories. The wall that shuts off those memories, however, doesn’t just close off the painful memories, but many good memories as well. For those of you struggling into this December, here are a couple of tips that might help you remember well:

1)Share your stories with someone else.

Grief feels like a very private thing and in many ways it is. The processing of grief, however, needs to be shared. Tell you stories to someone else. Telling our stories and listening to others share their memories can open us up to important things we have forgotten. Share a story with your spouse. Give you cousin a call. Tell your child a favorite memory that you have of their grandfather. Saying the words out loud has a power that doesn’t exist when our memories are left to bounce around lonely and captive in our mind.

2)Say the obvious out loud.

Everyone at this year’s family get-together knows that grandma is no longer with us. Don’t be afraid to say the words out loud. Everyone is thinking about it, and everyone is missing her. This will often give everyone permission to take a deep breathe, cry a few tears, or share a story. Don’t try to protect people from their pain, rather, create space for them to express it.

3)Don’t allow regrets to take over.

We are all human, and that means that every relationship we have brings its share of regrets.  There are things we wish we hadn’t said and other things we wish we had. It’s easy when we are grieving to become so focused on our regrets that we block out other good memories. You can learn from your regrets, but don’t spend time punishing yourself for things that happened 8 years ago. It’s not something that your loved one would have wanted for you.

4)Stay in the present.

Don’t’ allow your thoughts of the past cause you to miss out on the present. The pain of loss and remembering often demands our attention. Don’t allow those demands cause you to miss out on what’s going on around you this year. There is joy to be had and memories to be made.  Your friends and family need you in the here and now.

I hope this Christmas finds you with only the best memories and that for every tear of sadness, you’ll have several more of joy and laughter.

May you be blessed this Christmas with joy filled memories from the past, and laughter and peace in the present.

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