Today’s post is a tough one…a topic few grievers think about until much later when great damage has been done.
I hope this post will be read with an open heart, with the hope of preventing additional grief, guilt, and regrets.
With the grief experience of losing a treasured loved one, each and every griever has fully earned the right to “check out” of living life fully. And depending on how great the loss was, it is very, very easy to isolate yourself and avoid truly living life—and avoid enjoying remaining loved ones.
Grief is excruciatingly painful, can knock your breath out of you, leave you feeling as though you are “dead yet can’t die”, and can seriously crush your entire life. I truly have a huge heart of compassion for anyone who has to walk the confusing, debilitating, lonely and incredibly painful road of grief…especially around the holidays!
Today, as I was talking to my sister and mom, though, we got on the topic of how grief can impact and wreck not just holidays, but also relationships.
I wanted both of their perspectives on some grief topics since both have experienced extensive grief: my mom has experienced the deaths of her husband, daughter, sibling, parents, and others; my sister has experienced the deaths of two fiancés, our dad, sister, aunt, uncles, and all grandparents. As I’m writing a new book, I cherish and respect their input.
I’ve had two major mother influences in my life…my mom and my grandmother. Both experienced the death of a child – a loss I wish nobody would ever have to experience.
Holidays at my mom’s house and holidays at my grandmother’s home were polar opposite experiences.
Growing up, my grandmother was rarely fully present. Don’t get me wrong, she was a genuinely beautiful and kind soul, was always around us, and we saw her and my grandad every holiday…but she wasn’t “present.” She never made memories with us such as attending our school functions, sporting events, or life events, or doing usual activities such as baking cookies with us, or doing typical traditions such as decorating a Christmas tree, watching movies, or other holiday events. My sweet grandmother just didn’t have it in her to share in holiday joy with us or fully celebrate holidays. She stayed debilitatingly stagnant in her grief to where she was never able to create a “new normal” to enjoy the remaining good memories, remaining loved ones, and all that God, family, and life could have offered her.
By the way, I totally do not blame her. Grief is the worst! The death of a child is tremendously excruciating and tough to navigate through.
…And I don’t feel bad for myself or my siblings that our grandmother wasn’t “present”…I feel badly for all she missed out on and wish I would’ve had the opportunity to know her much better and to have had the opportunity to fully enjoy life and holidays with her. She missed out on a lot, and so did our family since she (understandably) “checked out” of living life. She sadly realized this the year before she died and told me she wished she had known how to “break through her grief” and wished she had “had more faith.”
Right before she passed away, my grandmother eventually became an incredible advocate for the elderly and helped many families. She was finally able to become active in her church and in many nursing homes in the area to use her gift of mercy toward others.
It’s a tough situation to finally choose to use your gifts after the death of a loved one.
My mom made the decision after my sister died, to be “all in” for her grandkids while growing up.
I’ll never know how she had the strength to do so, but she’s given her family the gift of great memories throughout the years. I greatly appreciate and admire my mom for working through her grief. I know it was not easy for her.
Because of my personal experiences, I always try to encourage grievers to fully grieve…absolutely fully grieve…and to be very mindful not to unknowingly create additional or worse grief, guilt, or regrets further down the road.
And doesn’t it suck that a griever even has to think about or deal with these issues whenever they’re already going through so much and are already in excruciating pain?
It unfortunately happens all the time. Very sad, very tough, but very true.
And it isn’t just in one or two families…many are going through the heartache of grief throughout this holiday season.
I received a phone call a few months ago that genuinely broke my heart. The caller had five children and she had lost her second oldest child several years ago. She was so heartbroken over her child’s death that she retreated strongly into her grief (what mother wouldn’t?), and although she truly did not mean to hurt her husband or other children…truly, she didn’t…she explained how her husband and remaining four children had very little to do with her since they felt she basically stopped being a wife and mother to them for about seven years. They all lived in the same house at the time of the death, then each child either moved away or got married, but the remaining kids described not only losing their brother but losing their mom as well. And it was very painful for them.
The husband was at the point of filing for divorce.
As I tried my best to bring hope, reconciliation, and relief to this sweet lady and her family (at the request of this poor mom), it was very, very difficult to get everybody to understand with empathy each other’s point of view.
The mom’s intention was never to not love and celebrate her husband and kids or miss so many life events, but nonetheless, the mom missed out on so much of their lives due to her anguish and grief.
And the kids, they didn’t have the capacity to fully feel empathy towards their mother because none were parents themselves. They didn’t understand the depths of her love and heartache.
The husband and kids needed much more empathy for their hurting wife/mom – and to realize you can’t just “snap out of it” while grieving someone you love and adore…and the wife/mom needed to find a way to show her family they are important to her.
I spent a lot of time helping this precious family who had been shattered by grief.
As my mom, sister, and I were talking about the topic of how to enjoy holidays once again, another situation came to mind.
My sister’s boyfriend had been in the hospital for 11 months after a tragic car accident, but our family had scheduled a family trip. She didn’t know what to choose…staying bedside of her boyfriend or go enjoy her family. It was a very tough choice for her, but she ultimately chose to go on our family vacation. It’s a very good thing she did because our oldest sister died right after we all got back from that trip.
Had my sister not found a balance in her harsh circumstances and grief…AND figured out a way to simultaneously grieve and still live, she would’ve been left with compounded and severe grief, guilt, and regrets from missing out on our very last vacation with our sister.
Today’s tip is: Please be careful not to miss out on making memories with loved ones who are still here, so you do not add further heartache, guilt or regrets to your life later on.
I personally think people should go out of their way to show extravagant grace to those who grieve, especially the first few years. Grievers NEED time to heal and absolutely NEED time and grace to figure out a new normal. It’s very challenging and tough! And if someone hasn’t been through deep grief, they just don’t fully understand.
The greater the love, the greater the grief…and the greater amount of time it takes to heal.
At the same time, I genuinely hate to see grievers go through additional grief due to regrets of not taking the time to love and enjoy their remaining loved ones who are still present.
I’ve seen marriages fall apart, adultery take place, children distancing themselves from their parents, families becoming greatly bitter, and a myriad of other painful scenarios transpire, all due to families not upholding empathy for each other..and not balancing grief.
Each person (and family) has to find their own unique balance. And it usually is a lot of trial and error as they figure it all out together.
It is so important to communicate, love each other, develop and show empathy for each other, and work as a team to figure it all out.
The lady who called me? I was able to help her, her husband, and her children find middle ground, empathy for each other, and some much needed restoration. (I’m thankful they gave me permission to use their story for this post to help others).
But there are many families who aren’t so lucky or blessed. Many marriages (up to 70-90%) and families fall apart and disintegrate due to grief. That’s why it is so incredibly vital to work together as a family to honor a deceased loved one’s life and to find how to still enjoy each other, celebrate with each other, and be genuinely present…in spite of grief attempting to rip families apart.
It’s a very unfair situation all the way around, but it is very important to cherish our remaining loved ones—and eventually celebrate holidays and life with them—as we walk through the storms of life together with our families.
Something my sister said shortly after our sister and her fiancé died made an impact on how I view this topic. Allow these words to powerfully speak to your heart:
“Even though I am deeply grieving, the clock is still ticking, and that is why I choose to keep living…purposefully.”
Just to be clear, I am NOT undermining anybody’s pain. I am totally not suggesting that anyone should suck it up or get over their grief…because nobody, in any circumstance, should EVER feel pressure to suck it up or get over a loved one’s death.
You can never “get over” a loved one because love lives on post-death. Grief is debilitating and horrible…and very real. It has no easy fix, it is extremely personal to each one who grieves, and depending on how great the loss was, it can be difficult to find or experience genuine joy again. Very difficult.
The remainder of this week, and especially Christmas Day, please take the time to extravagantly love and enjoy your remaining loved ones. It may be challenging due to excruciating grief and a broken, shattered heart, but I think you’ll be grateful down the road that you did.
Your grief may be very fresh and you may not have it in you to fully do that this year…that is totally okay…just take baby steps. Eventually, the baby steps will add up and significantly prevent future heartache, guilt, or regrets.
I hope every person who is going through grief finds strength, compassion, empathy and understanding from others, and great comfort this holiday season.
May you all honor your grief and deceased treasured loved ones – and also find delight and joy in your remaining loved ones as you make special memories this Christmas season.
If you are frustrated by a loved one who is deeply grieving, please please please give them the gifts of mercy, compassion, love, understanding, and empathy. They’re not only doing the best they can at the moment, but they truly may be just trying to make it not only day by day…but literally minute to minute.
If you are the one who is going through deep grief, please be kind to your heart. I believe if someone has experienced a life-altering grief event, they should receive much empathy to figure out how to personally handle holidays in a way they comfortably can and a “lifetime pass” to honor their loved one throughout holidays. It takes time to truly be able to enjoy holidays and not just go through the motions. I pray you – and your loved ones – give you the gifts of love and patience as you figure it out.
Love each other, pray for each other, help each other, and encourage one another.
Life, remaining loved ones, and holidays are worth celebrating and enjoying in every way we can!
Gratitude, love, and many blessings,
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3. Grief Bites: A New Approach To Growing Through Grief https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/862-grief-bites
4. Grief Bites: Hope For The Holidays: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1964-grief-bites-hope-for-the-holidays
5. Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: Christmas: http://bible.com/r/3V5
6. Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: Happy New Year!: http://bible.com/r/3Zv
7. Valentine’s Day: Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/14059-valentines-day-experiencing-holidays-with-jesus
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