How to Navigate the Hard-Experiencing Grief(and Joy)during the Holidays

The seventh anniversary of Mother’s death was October 23. One way I’ve honored her since that day has been to choose a passage from Psalm 119 to reflect upon. I always read that long chapter on the anniversary date of her death because I read the entire chapter out loud to her the morning she breathed her last breath. This year the words that I pondered are from verse 28, “I am weary from grief: strengthen me through your word.” It’s not surprising that this verse jumped out at me at this particular time in my life. For the past four months I have felt surrounded by death. I lost my brother-in-law to COVID 19. Others died from other causes: my Uncle Gene, my daughter’s pastor and his daughter, a neighbor, and a staff member of my own church. Most of these losses were unexpected.  So much death! So much grief! So much loss!

I know in my head that we don’t live forever. But, knowing it in my head doesn’t mean losing someone or something isn’t excruciatingly painful. The sadness can be intense. In fact the loss of anything that is dear to us or brings us security can bring suffering. Loss is inevitable. Change is inevitable. Transition is inevitable. The Wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes says it this way, “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” Another word for season or time is rhythm. The ebb and flow of a wave has a rhythm, life has a rhythm. There is rhythm within rhythm. Grief has a rhythm.

Everyone goes through the rhythm or process of grief in their own way. Grief is not linear. We may have been taught there’s a certain right way to grieve, but there isn’t. Yet, there are some key elements we need to be aware of as we handle our own grief and walk with others through theirs.

  • For a while after a loss, many of us will feel as if we are in a daze. The thought, “This isn’t real, this can’t have happened” may overwhelm us. This could become a place of denial.
  • All kinds of emotions will surface, especially anger. It can be anger at ourselves, at God, at the loss itself and at the reasons it happened, at friends, at family.
  • Overwhelming sadness, despair, emotional and physical fatigue, numbness, and depression may show up.
  • Expect that the first year may be the hardest as we remember the anniversaries of the loss. It may be birthdays, holidays, or the memory of other certain events. 
  • Accept that there may be days when God seems far away and silent.

How do we respond to God, to ourselves, to the situation, and to others when moving through grief? There are some things I have found helpful when trying to find my way through grief and loss.

  • In honesty I share with God, with myself, and with safe persons exactly how I feel. I make sure those I share my heart with are those who listen and don’t seek to “fix” me through advice. It’s a safe place to just “be”.
  • For some of us crying and even screaming is helpful. Of course, I find a place to be alone when these erratic outbursts need to be expressed.
  • I picture Jesus sitting or standing with me saying “I understand all you’re going through and I’m with you. I will not leave you.”
  • I find comfort in reading Psalms of lament.
  • I do physical things like outdoor walks or house cleaning, really anything that gets me moving helps. Physical movement informs the soul that we are alive and that there is hope.
  • It’s not always easy, but I work at extending grace to myself and to others.

Remember, joy does come in the morning because of our hope in Jesus and his death, burial, and resurrection. Know also that joy and mourning can abide together. Make room for both.

Suffering and grief come in all kinds of packaging. Are you in the midst of sadness that comes because of loss? What have you found that helps you the most as you move through these difficult seasons of life? How have you seen your joy return?