Our Thanksgiving was somber, but memorable. My great-grandmother had passed away only a few months before, and my mom and grandpa were too burdened with their sorrow to put on a grand feast. We made dinner reservations at a local restaurant.
We could still enjoy each other’s company and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, without the stress of making everything from scratch. Life wouldn’t be the same without “Gigi,” but it was also important that we all allowed ourselves and each other the space we needed to feel the hurt and to share what we missed about her.
It’s sometimes hard to face reality, especially when reality includes difficult, dark emotions we aren’t used to feeling. Grief often crashes upon our hearts in uncomfortable waves, seemingly out of nowhere. The holidays draw to the surface those complex, messy thoughts and feelings related to our losses.
The Void We Feel
It happens at Christmas, of course. We’re told by our culture to put on smiling faces and come together without acknowledging the depth of the void we feel. That’s not always easy to do. There are years you’ll feel more like you’re having a “blue Christmas” than a white one.
You can do a couple of things for yourself. Ease yourself away from the dread is by focusing on Advent. Advent reminds us to slow down, rest and simplify — all of which are crucial to those whose grief is new and raw. Take care of the basics of self-care — rest, eating nutritious foods, getting enough water to drink — and evaluate your priorities.
There are things you can do with others who share your grief. Memorialize your deceased loved ones by incorporating their memories and legacies into your celebrations. Purchase a gift that reminds you of your loved one and donate it to charity. Shared stories about the loved one’s famous dish always lovingly prepared for the holiday meal, all while gathered together in the kitchen, recreating the culinary masterpiece.
Talk about those who have died. Share with each other your favorite memories as you scroll through memory albums or scrap books. Talk about funny stories and laugh together. Impart some piece of advice that meant a lot to you from your loved one.
Words of Praise and Thanksgiving
Finally, while grief certainly must be acknowledged and experienced in whatever ways unique to you, this is a time of joy, of unity, of peace. Simple words of praise and thanksgiving can buoy us out of darkness and depressive thoughts. God is always good, and He gives us everything we have. Joy comes in small doses when we grieve, but it still comes.
God never abandons us, especially in our time of greatest need. Turn to Him, especially as you meditate on His birth as a helpless infant born in poverty. Speak to Him with a heart ready to receive Him in love this Christmas.
Jeannie Ewing writes about the hidden value of suffering and discovering joy in the midst of grief. Her latest book is For Those Who Grieve. A disability advocate, she shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several Catholic magazines, including Catholic Exchange. She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, see her website. “The Void We Feel at Christmas” is a shorter version of an article that appeared in the diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend’s Today’s Catholic.
The picture is by Dominicus Johannes Bergsma and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.