Coping with Grief During the Holidays

By Walter Albritton
Talk given to Opelika Hospice Group, November 10, 1999

People handle grief differently. Men handle grief differently from women. So the ideas I share today will be more helpful to some than to others. If any of it is helpful to some of you, I will be grateful. After the loss of a loved one, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are especially difficult. As you get ready to face these celebrations, perhaps for the first time alone, one of these suggestions may help.

1. Be kind to yourself and do what seems best for you.

a. Make up your own mind. Don't let well-meaning friends or family members make your decisions for you. Stay in charge of your life. Even your best friends will not know what is best for you unless you tell them.
b. If you want to be with people, do it. If you want to be alone, do that.
c. Be patient with yourself. Don't kick yourself because you feel "down." In time you will be "up" again.
d. Don't let other people manipulate you into "expected behavior." Accept the kindness of others but not their control. You are the best judge of what is best for you at this time.

2. Remember that most people are not skillful in responding to the grief of others.

a. Keep saying to yourself, "They mean well," even when what they are saying sounds stupid or awkward. Just smile and remember that most people know very little about how to deal with the sorrow of others.
b. Give people the benefit of the doubt. They care and they want to be helpful. The truth is, most of us don't know what to say to a friend engulfed in grief.
c. Be thankful for the condolence you receive. Some people receive very little.

3. Dump your guilt and bitter memories in the garbage.

One of the most beautiful vehicles ever drive by your home is the garbage truck. Old and useless stuff can be discarded. We need to do the same thing with some of the "stuff" that gets inside us.

a. Get rid of the stuff that saddens your memories. There are painful words and events that should be forgotten. Dismissed from our minds they can no longer trouble us. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. Put the past behind you.
b. Refuse to go on a guilt trip about the past. Stop saying, "If only....." When you start talking that way, remind yourself not to go there. Look ahead. Look up. Move on.

4. Cultivate your dearest memories.

a. Write them down so you will not lose them. Fill a notebook or two with your own descriptions of wonderful moments you shared with the deceased.
b. Writing down your feelings is good therapy. It will help you even if your story is not published in Reader's Digest.
c. What your write can become a wonderful gift to family members -- a child, grandchild, a sibling, or a cousin. It can even be a great gift to yourself.

5. Instead of trying hard to be "brave," try to be REAL.

a. Crying helps us all. Never be embarrassed by your tears. Be ashamed if you never cry.
b. To hurt is human. Hurting is a normal part of life. You are not a fence post or a stone. You have the marvelous capacity to love, and the pain of separation is the price we pay for the privilege of love.
c. Self-pity is understandable. Allow it to come by for a few days, but refuse to rent it a room to stay in your life. After awhile you must put up the "No Vacancy" sign and tell self-pity to drive on.
d. You don't have to prove anything to anybody. Try to focus on being a real person rather than trying to show everyone how brave you are. Refuse to act like you are trying to win the medal of honor for bravery.

6. Devise your own plan for recovery, one that fits you.

a. Give yourself time to heal since healing is a slow process. Remember that the doctor puts a broken arm in a cast for six weeks. Hearts take even longer to heal.
b. Wait awhile on doing things you think would be very painful now.
c. Staying "Home Alone" is no sin; it may help. Pace yourself.

7. Take advantage of all the resources available to you.

Especially helpful are what the Church calls "the means of grace." God has not left you to suffer alone. Grace is available through several means.

a. Worship, corporate and personal, will help. Refuse to sit and suffer alone. Worship God on the Lord's Day and worship privately every day. Talk to the Lord and allow Him to talk to you. He loves you.
b. Holy Communion is a vital means of grace. Your pastor will be happy to bring the Sacrament to you if you ask him.
c. Prayer is a source of healing. Write down your own prayers. Obtain a prayer book and personalize written prayers for yourself.
d. Singing is very helpful. Put on some good Christian music. Read the Psalms -- they are prayers God's people sang. Use them but compose some of your own. Personalize some of the ones you know. Sing unto the Lord your heartfelt desire for the recovery of hope and joy. I love to sing songs like "Precious Lord, take my hand...." when I am alone, simply to express my deep feelings to the Lord. When I am walking "through" the dark valley of grief, I want to feel that the Lord has taken me by the hand. I tell him if He won't let go, I won't.
e. Giving is a means of grace. Even when we are hurting, we must find ways of serving others. When we find a helpful way to enter into the needs of others, we usually discover that while we were busy serving others in His name, He was busy healing our broken hearts.