Four days after Christmas, my dog passed away from old age.
Lucky had grown up with me and saw me through the highs and lows of my teenage years, my transition from student to working professional and my married life. He was my best friend and most faithful companion and my life felt so empty without him.
Even though it’s been three years, I grapple with a mixture of emotions whenever Christmas comes around. Part of me rejoices because it’s a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but a part of me also grieves that my dog is no longer with me. Although I love spending time with family and friends over the festive period, there is a quiet sadness beneath it all.
Some of you might feel the same way about Christmas, as you may be in the midst of mourning the loss of a loved one or a beloved pet, a separation from a spouse or a slow, arduous recovery from an accident.
Andrea Yeung, a registered clinical counsellor with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors, says that “coping with the holidays during a season of grief can be a deeply challenging and difficult time. When you have lost a loved one, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ can feel like the exact opposite — the most painful.”
While it’s tempting to shun Christmastime and shut yourself away from a world that seems far too merry and bright, it may not be a healthy way to deal with your pain.
Here are some practical tools and handles, as well as biblical words of wisdom, which can help you in this time of anguish.
Understand that grief is a journey
Everyone experiences grief and loss differently. That also means the healing process is unique for each individual. If and when well-meaning family and friends tell you to “get over it” or “forget about it,” understand that they have not experienced what you went through and may not be aware of the extent of your trauma, so show them grace.
“Tears are not the enemy. Tears do not reflect a lack of faith. Tears are a gift from God that help to wash away the deep pain of loss.”
Grieving over a heartfelt loss takes time — possibly even a lifetime — and you should take all the time you need to heal from it. “Grief is a process, so it is important not to judge yourself, or others, in each individual’s unique way of processing through loss,” Yeung emphasizes.
Allow yourself to grieve
When memories are dredged up amidst the holiday season, give yourself permission to grieve over them. It is okay for soft tears to fall, for deep sobs to occur and for pain to be fully felt. Stifling our grief will only affect the healing process and make us feel strangely numb to everything around us.
Author Nancy Guthrie points out that crying is completely natural and God-given. “Sometimes, grieving people sense that people around them see their tears as a problem to be solved — that tears must mean they aren’t doing very well with their grief,” she writes. “But it makes sense that the great sorrow of losing someone we love would come out in tears. Tears are not the enemy. Tears do not reflect a lack of faith. Tears are a gift from God that help to wash away the deep pain of loss.”
Start a new Christmas tradition
Memories are powerful. And although they may be painful to recall, they are also a way to celebrate someone you miss dearly.
“Sometimes, recounting memories of the people that we have lost can be a source of comfort. Engaging in a ritual or starting a tradition with people who knew and loved the individual can become a space to honour them,” shares Yeung, who is also a pastor and director of healing ministries at Tenth Church in Vancouver, B.C.
“Simple things like writing a poem and reading it aloud together, singing the person’s favorite song, watching their favorite movie or looking at photo albums together and recounting memories can bring comfort,” she elaborates. “Perhaps you might light a candle in your loved one’s honour during a holiday gathering or create something artistic to honour their lives, like a quilt, a painting or a mosaic.”
Spend time worshipping God
Social situations can be overwhelming during holiday festivities. Signs of grief can seem like heavy baggage that other people don’t know how to handle or react to.
Writer Stacie Ruth Stoeltling advocates a “hands off, hands folded” approach, where you “reduce activity and increase connectivity through prayer and Christian companionship.” When you spend time dwelling in God’s presence and proclaiming his goodness and grace in your life, his abiding peace and love will surely grow within you, even if nothing changes outwardly.
The Bible is full of promises that God is near to all who call on him. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Jesus is also no stranger to suffering, as reflected in Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.”
Keep declaring these promises over your life or sing worship songs unto God, especially in times of great distress and when you feel all alone. God is with you, for you and never against you.
Share your burdens
During cheery holidays like Christmas, you may feel like a party pooper for not being able to “get out” of your grief and pain. However, being vulnerable with a trusted friend, pastor or counsellor about what you’re struggling with may prove to be both a step of faith and a step toward healing.
“If you can, ask for specific support from family and friends. Reach out to your communities and your pastors, and consider processing through your loss with a counsellor,” says Yeung.
No one should have to go through a battle alone. If you or someone you know needs help, please see the list of resources we put together just for you. If you are currently in a crisis situation, please seek immediate intervention by reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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