A question I am continually asked by grievers during the holidays is: “Should I fully celebrate Christmas or not? My head says ‘yes,’ but my heart says, ‘no.’”
It’s such a personal topic – with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer – and it doesn’t have just one correct answer either.
It also can look different for each situation, as well as year-to-year – and can depend on where you are at in your grief. In fact, my family and I have handled this dilemma in different ways, depending on the grief event, as well as different years, too.
A few ways my family and I have navigated the holidays while going through painful grief (again, there are no cookie-cutter, right or wrong, answers)…this is just what we were comfortable doing:
When my 22 year-old sister died, leaving behind three small children (a baby and two toddlers), and I had a toddler at the time, too…my family and I felt strongly we were not going to compromise Christmas or give the kiddos any sad holiday memories. Looking back, I have no idea how we mustered the strength to do so, but we chose to go all out and gave our family’s kiddos the best Christmas we could. I’m not saying it was easy…it totally wasn’t…but we didn’t want to add to their loss. At one point, I had to go outside to cry for a few minutes so they wouldn’t see my heartache…and that night, while in the shower and after I got in bed, I cried pretty hard. However, I’m very grateful we chose to do what we did— and I give all the credit to God. It was definitely His grace that got us through that first heartbreaking, impossible, gut wrenching Christmas.
Another holiday season – years later when we weren’t responsible for children – it looked a lot different. Years after my 22 year-old sister died, my other sister experienced her 2nd fiancé’s death (her 1st fiancé died a few weeks before our sister died). With this grief event, we no longer had small children…all of the kids were college-age…so my family and I gave ourselves permission to have a much more relaxed Christmas season. We exclusively focused on Jesus, family, and the peace of the season. That’s it. We didn’t place any pressure on ourselves to have the perfect Christmas season or a “happy” holiday. We pretty much just “winged it” and did whatever we felt comfortable doing each day. I found I liked and appreciated this so much that I have made a portion of the Christmas season a time for peace and relaxation.
What about traditions? It’s totally okay to balance old traditions with new traditions. Old traditions help us to honor and remember our loved ones. New traditions help us to create something new…it can help to refocus our heart…especially during times of grief.
Okay…so here comes the difficult part…
I’m going to write about something super hard to talk about. I don’t like to write about it…I seriously feel like a jerk for what I’m about to write…but I wouldn’t be responsible if I didn’t. Please know it comes from a good place of overwhelming compassion. And experience. Hopefully, my pain can be someone else’s gain.
You know how you take your kiddo to the doctor for a painful shot? It hurts at the time, but it can prevent something worse in the future? Here’s your holiday “shot.” It may sound tough…but it will prevent future grief and heartache…
Something nobody likes to think about or talk about…and something important I found (it was bitterly learned through deep regret): no matter the grief event I face, I choose to celebrate the Christmas season, as best as I can, with my remaining loved ones. Whether I feel like it or not. No matter the grief event I’m going through. Exclusively because I’m not guaranteed they or I will be “here” to celebrate with the following year. Illness can happen…cancer can happen…car accidents can happen…freak accidents can happen…we’re just not guaranteed tomorrow…so it is wise to make the most of every day, every holiday, and every opportunity. Time waits for no one.
I didn’t use to think this way; in fact, I previously and vehemently encouraged others to “do whatever they need to do to get through the holidays (as long as they aren’t hurting God’s heart, others, or their own self)”…but then, regret set in when a loved one died in a freak accident – and I realized I had wasted my last holiday and time with them due to choosing grief over relationships.
I now continually tell myself: Grief has already stolen so much…please do not allow it to steal more from you than it already has.
I cannot stress this enough: it is so very important to love, make memories, and spend time with our remaining treasured loved ones…we are never guaranteed more time…we do not know what tomorrow holds.
An important quote (a very painful, but good quote by Kelli Horn) which totally sums it up: “Even though I am grieving, the clock is still ticking…and that’s why I keep living…purposefully.” It’s so incredibly true. I think about this quote anytime I feel like not living life fully. I also focus on what God, my deceased loved ones, and remaining loved ones would want for me…and what they need from me. I continually ask myself if my choices will allow grief to steal more away from me…or cause further/future grief or regrets.
So does that mean we superficially be fake and act happy? Act like our hearts are healed when they’re totally not? Wear ourselves thin when we’re utterly exhausted? Absolutely not. We balance our grief with cherishing our remaining treasured loved ones, as we create meaningful memories during the holiday season. We balance times for family…with time for our grief. And tears may surface…and we may need to create a relaxed or even different holiday – which is totally okay. We can trade in fun or hurried traditions for peaceful and more meaningful traditions. Those who love us best will understand…and will show us compassion.
All I am writing about is not the gospel. It’s simply a personal opinion and preference – built around my unique grief and life experiences. It’s just how my family and I have chosen to do a few holiday seasons while we were in deep grief, and how we’ve decided to create our new normal for holidays.
There are times to relax or take a break…and times to press forward. This year, we are right in the middle of excruciatingly painful grief, so we are pressing forward. My Dad was recently diagnosed with stage 4 metastasized cancer…so even though none of us are feeling super cheerful, we are absolutely determined to have the best Christmas season ever, as we make lasting memories as a family…especially with my Dad.
Everyone has to choose to do Christmas in their own unique and individualized way…because each person will need to be comfortable with their own grief, feelings, and decisions. Each person has to weigh their individual blessings, responsibilities, potential regrets, consequences, comfort level, and spiritual/emotional/physical/mental health. It’s wise to look at the past, present, as well as the future when choosing how to best create the Christmas season.
Sooo…is it wrong to stay home and have a peaceful Christmas? Or go out of town for the holidays for a change of pace? Or forgo your usual Christmas traditions or create brand new traditions? Absolutely not.
Each person/family needs to make the best decisions for their family and their self, pray about it, and then do as God directs them. Soul/emotional care is so very important. Sometimes, it’s necessary to do what you need to do to protect your heart.
Just a tip: Any decision made this year doesn’t have to be made in cement…it can always be changed up the following year. It’s helpful to communicate this with loved ones…it can prevent conflict.
I’m often asked what I do for the holidays. I personally have found focusing on the true Reason for the season, family, and doing kind things for others is incredibly helpful and brings my heart joy. I’ve grown a lot throughout my grief. I enjoy Jesus and all the season has to offer…and make the best memories I can with my loved ones. I always count the cost.
My advice for the holidays? Custom create a special Christmas season that “fits” where you currently are in your grief and life. Be loving and compassionate to your loved ones, and communicate with them how you feel. Ask how they’re feeling, too. Look for ways to love others and make a difference. Take time to remember and honor your loved ones who now live with Jesus. Figure out together with God and family how to create a meaningful, special holiday season.
Grief is excruciating. The first few years are incredibly hard. Sometimes, random years will punch you as hard as the first Christmas without your loved one. It won’t always feel as bad as it does today…the pain eventually lessens. It usually gets worse before it gets better…but…your best days may not have even happened yet. Whether it’s holidays, family, life, or grief, all are precious and worthy of embracing.
With a heart of gratitude…even though it hurts so incredibly bad…make the most of all God, family, and life have to offer…and that will look different for each person.
However you choose to unwrap the Christmas season, I pray God will bless you with all the gifts the season has to offer. I also pray God will carry, deeply comfort, strengthen, encourage, love, and bless all of you.
Wishing you a very peaceful, healing, meaningful, and blessed Christmas season!
Gratitude & blessings,
©2021 Kim Niles/Grief Bites. All rights reserved.
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❤️FREE YouVersion reading plans:
1. Grief Bites: Hope For The Holidays: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1964-grief-bites-hope-for-the-holidays
2. ⭐️NEW⭐️ The True Treasure of Christmas: https://www.bible.com/en/reading-plans/28852
3. Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: Christmas: http://bible.com/r/3V5
4. Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: Happy New Year!: http://bible.com/r/3Zv
5. Grief Bites: Finding Treasure In Hardships: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/912-grief-bites-finding-treasure-in-hardships
6. Grief Bites: Doubt Revealed: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/954-grief-bites-doubt-revealed
7. Grief Bites: A New Approach To Growing Through Grief https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/862-grief-bites
8. Valentine’s Day: Experiencing Holidays With Jesus: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/14059-valentines-day-experiencing-holidays-with-jesus
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