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Creating a new approach to the holidays in the midst of grief

The following guest post is part of a series called When Christmas is Hard, which explores unique challenges and heartaches of the holiday season.

Christmas grief
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

This past September when temperatures reached the 90’s, I made my weekly trip to Costco. A Christmas display of decorations and cookies greeted me at the door.

Some people love Christmas.  To some it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it is a most painful and grief-filled time.

Some people love Christmas.  To some it's the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it is a most painful and grief-filled time. Click To Tweet

The first Christmas after the sudden loss of my husband in 2018 was the most difficult season I experienced.

The idea of celebrating the holidays with an empty chair at the table felt excruciating. I couldn’t fathom the thought of going to a Christmas Eve service while in so much pain. 

The holidays have all sorts of attachments to them.  From the decorations on the tree, to the foods you bake and eat.  Memories come with each one.

When you have celebrated with a loved one for over 36 years, the pain outweighs the decision to celebrate at all.

Christmas unlike any other

Christmas 2018 was unlike any in the past.  My two adult children and I had a talk about the holidays in August that year. We knew it would be hard, but didn’t realize how hard.

In considering the holidays after a devastating loss due to death, divorce or a diagnosis,  the phrase, “Surviving the Holidays” seems to fit.  It is really about survival, getting through, and landing on the other side in one piece.

So much of what makes the holidays hard when you’ve experienced a loss are memories from the past.

My husband and I had gone together to buy a Christmas tree for 36 years. Christmas 2018, I made the decision not to get a Christmas tree.

My husband and I had gone together to buy a Christmas tree for 36 years. Christmas 2018, I made the decision not to get a Christmas tree. Click To Tweet

Some traditions incited triggers I didn’t feel ready for.  In making the decision, I found I was able to focus on what was going on inside of me, rather than what was taking place outside of me. 

I also became aware of how much time decorating for the holidays takes, while you are still working and doing normal tasks. 

The stress of Christmas I used to feel was diminished.  I gave myself permission to be with my grief, and not to pretend. My new reality gave me a strange freedom.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Grief brings a chance to grow

I began to notice deciding what not to do allowed me to make decisions of what I wanted to do instead. My two adult children proposed we take a trip for Christmas.

I wholeheartedly agreed. Making a plan to do something different became a step toward creating a new approach to the holidays. A change of scenery and being away from home allowed the three of us to create new memories amidst our grief. 

In reflecting back on Christmas of 2018, it was like listening to a weather report. Advance warning to get ready for a storm coming. 

Preparing ahead for physical, emotional, and spiritual needs became imminent. Saying no to events and setting boundaries allowed me to honor my grief. 

Saying no to events and setting boundaries allowed me to honor my grief. Click To Tweet

In essence, a space opened up to focus more on the spiritual significance of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us.

More than any other time in my life, I embraced the true meaning of what that looked like. Peace and comfort came in a different, yet more meaningful way. 

When Christmas is not filled with what you have known, there is space for creating a different landscape. Adjusting our expectations in a difficult season can allow us to be in a hard place in a good way.

We may see through tears in the midst of a hard season.  What we can’t see yet is the growth that will come out of that hard season.   

Pam Luschei is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She invites women to experience a deeper relationship within, with God and others amidst the storms of life. She lives in Southern California, where she loves to hike national parks with her daughter and son.

Find her on Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/pamluschei/ and on her website https://www.gratefulyetgrieving.org/

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