Dealing With Grief During The Holidays
Now, I have to remember you for longer than I have known you. C.C. Aurel
The holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us who have lost those near and dear to us. Not only did their passing leave a hole in our hearts, but that hole grows ever wider as we experience holidays without them.
My mom passed away just over a week before Halloween in 2017. All that month, she had been bugging me to put up the Halloween decorations. I was busy and hadn't gotten around to it, and she was fretting about it.
"You need to put up those Halloween decorations for those boys," she weakly told me one day. And so I did. Chastened, I went out and bought a fortune's worth of lights and decor and decorated the heck out of the front of the house.
Days before she passed away, my mom told me that she wanted to see the lights I'd put up at last. It took two of us to get her to the front door, where she could see the decorations lit up and festive.
"Good job," she said to me softly.
You see, my mom had always decorated her house for her grandsons. She went all out, tackiness and kitchiness be damned.
Holidays were special to her because that's when we would all gather. There would be joy, laughter, and photographs with the ridiculous matching elf or Santa hats she would buy for everyone to wear at Christmas.
Things are different than they used to be. Kids grow up and visit in-laws or are out with friends. The world moves on. We all get older.
But every year, I pull out all of the decorations for the various seasons, and we put them all out, mostly in my mom's honor, but also to remember holidays past and take in all the new memories we are making.
These past few years have been hard for us all, and my family has not been immune to struggle and challenge.
And for those who are experiencing their first holiday season without a loved one, it can be especially difficult. Maybe that's you. As you read this, you may be wondering how you will get through the next couple of months.
There are also plenty of us who feel our grief afresh during the holidays as we remember and are filled with sorrow that the one we've lost isn't with us. We might even wonder how different our lives would be if they were alive.
This is why I cling to a belief that I have that is grounded in not only my desires but also more than a few mentions in the Bible.
Our loved ones are not far from us.
If we believe that when we die, we return to God, it makes sense that if we are one with God, we are also present wherever God is. And if we believe in a God present all around us, in us, and through us... then so are our loved ones.
There's a wonderful line from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban:
You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?
When I moved to Texas seven years ago, I became much more aware of the Mexican celebration Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Dia de los Muertos is a time for families to come together and celebrate the lives of their ancestors and loved ones who are no longer with them. It’s a way to remember and honor their memory, not to mourn their passing.
I have grown fond of this holiday over the past several years. I even bought themed decorations for Dia de Los Muertos after my mom's passing, even though I wasn't fully aware of why I was doing it.
For those of us who struggle with renewed grief during the holidays, adopting the practice that Dia de Los Muertos teaches is a wonderful way to reframe our grief and to think lovingly and joyfully about our loved ones.
We can include their favorite decorations, eat their favorite foods, tell stories about them, and remember them well. And if all of that is too hard, we can simply do our best to hold on to the hope and trust that they are near us even now.
They rejoice when we rejoice. They weep when we weep. They see more clearly who we are than they ever have, and they love with the love of God.
They are not gone.
They might be beyond our sight, but they are not far from us, and they are always in our hearts.
May this give us comfort and peace. And may those who are mourning, mourn as those who have hope. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever, Amen.