*This article was originally published in Reclaim magazine.
Is there an empty place at your table this Christmas? For many, this will be their first holiday season without their loved one. For others, it’s been several years since their loved one’s passing, yet the sting of missing their presence is still there. It’s OK to remember them. This year, my dad is celebrating his second Christmas in heaven. We recently visited Dad’s grave at the beautifully decorated Central Valley Veterans’ Cemetery—a moving experience to see hundreds of natural pine wreaths with their bright red bows placed lovingly in front of each white marble headstone. Dad would have loved it.
My new husband, Jim Turner, and I began decorating for Christmas in our new home Thanksgiving weekend. As I’ve pulled out my favorite Christmas decorations, finding just the right place for them, we’ve been able to share a lot of good memories, but I’ve also been ambushed by grief. This is my seventh Christmas since Pastor Paul’s fatal motorcycle accident tore him from my arms and caused his untimely home-going. I treasure remembering joyful Christmases past with my late husband and elementary-aged children. I cherish revisiting the family memories (pajama-clad on Christmas morning, donning Santa hats with our pet cats, dogs, and ourselves for the annual photo shoot). Accepting the harsh reality that my first husband will no longer be part of my future is an important part of my personal healing process.
“You and I will be different because of our grief,” says H. Norman Wright. This is true. However, as grievers, we have a choice. Will you let grief take you to a place of compassion for others? Or will you be stuck in selfishly running awful-izing circles around your own losses? (Awful-lizing circles convince us our situation is worse than anyone else’s and that God doesn’t care about us. This is a lie.) I chose to refuse to believe the lies grief tried to tell me by working through the “Five Tasks of Grief” by Dr. De Vries, shared in Nancy & David Guthrie’s GriefShare Recovery Group.
1. Accept the fact your loved one has died and is not able to return.
It takes about six to nine months for the heart to catch up to what the mind knows is true. Take time to grieve. If well-meaning friends say “It’s about time you are done grieving.” Gently and patiently remind them of the huge void your loved one’s death has created and your grief is not on a schedule.
2. Give appropriate release to all of your emotions.
Emotions need to be expressed, not pent up. Don’t store them; they always come out, one way or another. It helps to write out your emotions in long-hand. Typing on a computer is not a replacement. Something happens when you write things out long-hand, when information is downloaded from the brain through the fingertips it’s an emotional release. This practice of expressing feelings, unloading hurt, sharing memories, as it is transferred from pen onto the paper, does wonders for the heart, mind and soul. This emotional dumping helps clarify loss, future focus and is a reference point for healing.
3. Separate and store the memories of your loved one.
When your loved one died, their history has stopped. When you treasure or recall memories, it makes room for you to move on. Remember funny stories, quirks and bad habits and even embarrassing moments, it helps to laugh at the things they laughed about with you. Express your memoirs even if they are difficult to remember, or you feel sabotaged by grief. It helps to share them with a mutual friend or family member. Instead of ignoring the memories, reliving them helps aid in healthy recovery.
4. Separate your own identity from what it was with your spouse or loved one.
My loved one died. Their history ended; everything now about my loved one is in the past tense. This is a very difficult concept, especially for widows and widowers. It can be a shocking reality check for the griever to understand their spouse is no longer part of the present or future. It is very painful to accept the fact that loved one is no longer contributing to their lives.
5. Reinvest in life—to God has called you to be and to do.
Realize you have your life yet to live, and God’s plans are part of a bigger picture, which includes God’s purposes that far outlive your loved one. The griever might feel guilty to have fun or even not want keep on enjoying life without their loved one. As the griever accepts the fact that their loved one will not return, the person makes a choice to reinvest in life and step into the new role God has planned for their next steps. This can only happen when you can see the new opportunities ahead as a new beginning.
My new husband, Jim, and I are intentionally blending our families, Christmas decorations, and traditions while assimilating our lives. It has been fun but also a lot of work. We’ve had to pay attention to our feelings about things when we feel hurt, lost, or overwhelmed. We are greatly encouraged God is blending our future with His purposes. We continue to trust Him with the prospective opportunities, excited to see what God shows us next. Together, we want to remember God’s promises are enough to help us stand firm and look forward to our future.
We stand on God’s precious and magnificent promises. Grief can change us when we “lean into our personal grief.” This means to “grieve our own grief” and let our grief take us where it will. We can’t go around, over, under our grief, but we can put effort into moving through our grief. Won’t you stand with us?
“God heals the brokenhearted, he binds up their wounds.” —Psalm 34:18
“The day you die is better than the day you are born.” —Ecclesiastes 7:1
“The righteous pass away; the godly often die before their time. And no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For the godly who die will rest in peace.” —Isaiah 57:1–2
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” —John 14:2
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, I will bring you back from captivity.” —Jeremiah 29:11–14
“Now may the God of hope make you full of joy and peace through faith, so that all hope may be yours in the power of the Holy Spirit.” —Romans 15:13
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.” —Revelation 21:4
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for eternal life. Thank you for the memories of our loved one. Thank you for giving up memories to help us cope with our loss. Thank you for the hope we have that we will see them again in heaven. Thank you for the confidence that you are preparing a place for us. Heal our broken hearts; bind up our wounds. Thank you for providing peace, comfort, and hope. May we freely give to others what you have so generously given us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
You are so very deeply loved. Are you missing your loved one this Christmas? I would love to pray for you. Send an email: firstname.lastname@example.org