Is there an empty place at your table this Christmas? For many, this will be their first holiday season without their loved one. It’s OK to remember them. This year, my dad is celebrating his first Christmas in heaven. We recently visited dad’s grave at the beautifully decorated central valley veteran’s 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, and I began decorating for Christmas 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 sixth Christmas since Pastor Paul’s fatal motorcycle accident caused his untimely home-going. I treasure joyful Christmases past with my late husband and elementary-aged children. Accepting the fact that my first husband will no longer be part of my future is an important part of my healing process.
“You and I will be different because of our grief,” says H. Norman Wright. This is true. However, the griever has 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 that 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Reinvest in life—to God has called you to be and to do.
- Realize you still have purposes that far outlive your loved one.
Jim and I are blending our families, Christmas decorations, and traditions while assimilating our lives. It has been fun but also a lot of work. We have had to pay attention to our feelings about things when we feel hurt, lost, or overwhelmed. We are greatly encouraged that 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, or 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
“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 allowing us to know without a shadow of doubt that you are preparing a place for us. Heal our broken hearts; bind up our wounds. Thank you that you provide peace, comfort, and hope. May we freely give to others what you have so generously given us. In Jesus’ name, amen.