Sunday, December 1, 2002
Dealing with grief at Christmastime
BY DR. DAVID
Amid the joy of Christmas, there is another side to the Christmas story that is often overlooked. Not everyone was thrilled to learn of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus was not welcomed by everyone, especially King Herod, who could not stand the thought of anyone competing for his throne. Feeling threatened, Herod ordered a massacre of all baby boys under two years of age.
If you listened carefully to the sounds of that first Christmas, you could hear soldiers' threats, babies' cries and young mothers wailing in desperation. Grief collided with the joy of Christmas.
Some years celebrating Christmas is tough. When my father died in October, 1993, that Christmas was different. A loved one was missing at the table. There was one less gift to buy. The family still gathered and, through tears, we still had Christmas. We had each other, we had our Savior, and we were thankful that my father was in heaven, but the pain was very real. Sadness and gladness met head-on that Christmas, and often sadness won.
This Christmas may be tough for you. This is the first year you've had to face the holidays since losing a loved one, or since a loved one became ill. Christmas will be different. I don't profess to be an expert, but the professionals I've read have made several suggestions for getting through the holiday as you're processing a significant loss. In "You and Your Grief During the Holiday Seasons," Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt of the University of Colorado medical school writes:
1. Love does not end with death. "Holidays may result in a renewed sense of personal grief, a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living. Society encourages you to join in the holiday spirit, but all around you the sounds, sights and smells trigger memories of the one you love who has died."
2. Talk about your grief. "Don't be afraid to express your feelings of grief. Ignoring your grief won't make the pain go away and talking about it openly often makes you feel better. Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging you.
3. Be tolerant of your physical and psychological limits. "Feelings of loss will probably leave you fatigued. Your energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. And lower your own expectations about being at your peak during the holiday season."
4. Eliminate unnecessary stress. "Don't overextend yourself. Avoid isolating yourself, but be sure to recognize the need to have special time for yourself." Have realistic expectations. Don't take on more than you can do and don't set expectations too high.
5. Mention the name of the person who has died. "If you are able to talk candidly, other people are more likely to recognize your need to remember that special person who was an important part of your life.
6. Plan ahead. "Decide the family traditions you want to continue, and the new ones you would like to begin following the death of a loved one. Structure your holiday time. This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just reacting to whatever happens."
7. Embrace your treasuries of memories. "Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. And holidays always make you think about times past. Instead of ignoring these memories, share them with family and friends. Memories that were made in love no one can ever take them away from you.
I want to add an eighth suggestion: Make spiritual preparation, even if you don't feel like being spiritual. The real joy of Christmas is found in the believer's relationship with God. Focusing on a secular Christmas can increase one's grief, but focusing on the birth of Jesus can give encouragement in the midst of grief. Christmas is about Emmanuel, "God with us," and God is with us to assure us even in our hard times. Let God minister to you and keep a faith perspective.
(Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, 352 McDonough Road, Fayetteville. Join them Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m.)