As many families are coming together all across Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS) communities to celebrate Christmas, we remember that the holiday season can be a difficult time for some, especially for those experiencing grief. Today we share a reflection from Pastor Chris Wheatley about this phenomenon.
Pastor Chris is Director of Christian Ministry and Social Services for Optage Hospice, part of the home and community services division of PHS.
Pastor Chris begins with a question:
Why is grief more pronounced during the holiday season?
Grief is a reaction to the stress caused by loss, and the holidays tend to be the most stressful time of year. When you are already pushed to your breaking point just by the annual traditions, costs, and responsibilities, trying to deal with the very real feelings, needs, and memories brought on by grief can be overwhelming.
Making a plan
A good plan for journeying through the holidays with grief includes realistic expectations, new traditions, and accepting support from others.
It is okay if the first few years after a significant loss don’t feel like they normally do. Give yourself the grace of knowing what you need out of that first Thanksgiving with an emptier table. Even a family that normally ensures that Christmas is about remembering the birth of Christ can understand that this year, it might be about getting to December 26 together instead.
There are some traditions that will not look the same after a loss. If the person who provided a special food item is missing, then food itself will be a reminder of their absence. If you have gone to the same house for 25 years as a clan, then the loss of that house will color everything else. Prepare to change or even discontinue traditions that bring more pain than meaning this year; you can always bring them back again in 2019.
Accepting support from others
One of the most difficult parts of holiday grief is the fact that it affects so many people at once. Your most trusted confidants and friends are probably going through their own stress at this time, and it can be hard to sit down and talk, or lend a listening year. It is common that when we need the most support, we have the least. This is a good time of year to reach out beyond your normal supports; churches, counselors, help lines, and grief groups are usually prepared for more activity than normal in December, and can be great helps.
Accept your sorrow; accept your joy
Finally, if I had only one piece of advice for you, be ready for both the good and the bad times that are coming. Remember that grief is a journey because it is going somewhere, and every step along the way gets you closer. It is ok to be overwhelmed with your tears and sense of loss; this doesn’t mean you don’t value your living family or don’t trust in the newborn Savior. And it is ok to find yourself enjoying the holidays, too. If you are caught up in watching children laugh and play, it doesn’t mean you don’t take your loss seriously. Be ready for larger than normal emotions, both happy and sad.
A Merry Christmas from PHS
Whatever the rest of this holiday season brings you, all of Pres Homes comes together in wishing you and your family the very best, thanking you for all that you do, and praying that Our Lord continues to draw you closer in the coming year.