December 2, 2020
Walking into the retail store, the automated greeting Santa states, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas” and waves with his white-gloved hand. Inside the store, the intercom music is blaring, “Tis the Season to be Jolly,” interrupting your thoughts and bringing you back into reality. Christmas season is anything but jolly when you are dealing with grief. It’s all you can do to muster a fake smile and say Merry Christmas.
Grief is anything that causes intense emotional suffering such as the death of a loved one, financial loss, a prodigal child, divorce, expectations not met, a disease such as Alzheimer’s and the loss due to natural disasters or fires.
It was challenging to deal with loss before COVID-19; now, the pandemic has compounded our lives with additional physical, financial and emotional strains. It has robbed many from having normal visitation and funeral services. Visiting loved ones in a nursing home was suspended. Memory-making moments, such as weddings, graduations and childbirth had to be celebrated differently.
Grief comes to everyone, and as the countdown to the Christmas season approaches, a black cloud of dread and anxiety can arise. Loneliness engulfs many people. Tears flow, emotions are raw, memories echo from the past of the relationships and things lost. The Christmas season only seems to exacerbate the loss. Let’s look at some ways to bring hope and comfort.
Facing grief at Christmas can be especially difficult, said Morris Murray Jr., a healthcare management specialist and minister of music and outreach who lives in Jasper. He offered three primary reasons why:
- Reduced joy. “The flooding of memories at Christmas tends to dilute the happiness once associated with the deceased person’s presence, which has now turned into absence.” Some people struggle with survivor’s guilt or a myriad of questions.
- Ruptured expectations. “Grieving at Christmas tends to puncture our previous conceptions or ideation about the meaningfulness of life itself.” Daily we go through the typical hello and goodbyes, “but at Christmas, a dawning realization tends to set in that it is the only goodbye. That realization, in itself, may destroy our hopes, dreams and expectations about the future and thereby lessen the significance of life.”
- Revolving associations. Anything such as objects, a Christmas card, gift or song brings reminders of the loss. Colder temperatures can hinder us from interacting with others. The lack of exercise and fresh air makes a person more lethargic, rendering an individual more prone to emotional outbursts.
Accepting the reality of the loss can be difficult, in part because of basic biology, Murray said.
The human brain is a complex organ. When faced with tragedy and loss, it takes time to process what has taken place. No easy solutions exist. Many times, there are no answers to the “why” questions as an individual is looking for closure.
“The word closure customarily refers to some degree of acceptance about the death of a loved one or friend. It may send the message that if you cannot let go and move on at the rate someone else dictates to you, then ‘you must be abnormal and in need of psychiatric care’ hyperbolically speaking — but not necessarily. It is always risky to play the role of God and tell others authoritatively just how, when and what ‘they need to do’ to restore balance to their lives,” Murray said.
Tips for coping
He offered tips for those helping loved ones through a difficult season.
- Be sensitive to the timing and ask questions that may help them process the loss. Additionally, be aware of an individual’s personality style. Is that person an introvert or extrovert? What are his or her strengths and weaknesses? What is in that person’s background regarding a loss?
- Remember crying is therapeutic, “an inherent release valve,” Murray said. Yet many people hold back the tears because they are afraid of what people will think of their lack of control. Eventually, again based upon a person’s personality, there comes a moment when the crying becomes controllable. But anything can trigger and reignite the flow.
- Share hope with those who grieve. When God created humankind, He gave us the ability to experience joy and pain. He also gave us the ability to grieve. It is a natural healing process for the body, soul and mind.
- The Bible offers many stories of individuals who experienced loss, their grieving process, and the ability to move forward. Hope for the grieving heart is found in Jesus. Isaiah 53 is an excellent place to start. He is “… A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (v. 3).” He can identify with every thought and emotion you are experiencing. And He is the grief bearer, “Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v. 4a,).
God is the God of all comfort! (2 Cor. 1:3–7) As believers, we have the hope and the vast treasure of His word to comfort others and ourselves. Personal experiences are a testimony of God’s steadfast love, peace, faithfulness and His provision of sustaining grace through loss.
For more on facing grief at Christmas, listen to a conversation from 2019 featuring Murray and TAB Talks hosts Jennifer Davis Rash and Debbie Campbell. Click here to go to the episode.
- “Harsh Grief, Gentle Hope” by Mary A. White (Iron Stream Media)
- “Don’t Take My Grief Away from Me” by Doug Manning (In Sight Books)
- “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David A. Kessler (Scribner)