December 3, 2021
Reflections – Holiday Seasons and Grief
Holiday seasons are times of great joy. They are also often times of peak grieving as we are shaken by memories of those who have gone on ahead of us. We notice the empty chair at the table. We miss the laughter and caring that the one we love provided. We are thankful for what they gave us while they were here. And we grieve.
What is grief? Grief is the process of adjusting to loss and incorporating that loss into one’s life. It involves physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. And it involves pain. The more important the person or thing lost is to the griever, the more intense the pain. Recovery takes time.
The Unwanted Gift
In his book, The Unwanted Gift of Grief, Tim VanDuivendyk says that while grief is unwanted, it is a gift. “Our creator has given us the gift of grief in order for us to manage the loss of love on earth.” It is a way God has given us to express appreciation for who or what we have lost. We grieve because we value and cherish what has been lost. It is a way to hold on to what we have lost until we have healed enough to move forward.
How shall we manage these emotional times of grief? How can we help others manage their grief? Here are some suggestions.
First of all, those who are grieving need us to love them just as they are, without trying to fix them. They need us to meet them where they are, not where we wish they were. VanDuivendyk writes, “Perhaps there is no greater love than for a man or woman to close his or her mouth and open his or her ears and eyes, so that another may express himself or herself completely and freely.” The two greatest words a person experiencing grief needs to hear are, “I care.” And that can be communicated in hundreds of ways with words, touch, prayers, actions, eye contact, etc.
VanDuivendyk speaks of incarnate love. “When a loved one or part of life is lost, one is often devastated and alone. The grieving person needs support from one who listens and tries to understand. I call this person a sojourner. Over the years, I have often noticed that family members, friends, congregational members, work associates and even health care professionals and clergy avoid the person in intense grief. I do not believe they avoid them because these individuals lack concern; but because they do not know what to say. Usually, they care deeply but do not know how to communicate care. In the awkwardness, they often say little, change the subject, or make positive comments in hopes of making the hurting person feel better.”
The Grieving Process
Secondly, the grieving process is unique for each of us. We grieve in our own ways. There is no set pattern. In the midst of it all God recognizes our pain. A groan is enough for Him. Remember, God created tear ducts. He is working with and in one’s whole life; you are not alone. As tough as it sounds, suffering will not destroy you.
Life is about change. Change brings about pain. Pain brings about grief. And grief must be processed. The grief process is one of change. It is not linear. It’s messy. But we all go through it and we can emerge on the other side. Below is an illustration of how we move through that change, from what was to what is to what can be. The “new normal” is not the same as the “old normal”, but it can be good. When one is grieving they are in the center envelope of “chaos”. They often cannot think clearly and may not remember anything you say to them. But they WILL remember that you were present.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler in their book, On Grief and Grieving, write:
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
A chaplain friend of mine says that the lost one will always remain in your heart. You just have to learn to move them over a bit so as to allow new life to flow in and continue. I like with Paulo Coelho wrote, “Never. We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”
How To Relate
So, how shall we relate to those who are grieving? First, remember that grieving people are not contagious. They are broken. What they need most is our presence, not our advice. Never underestimate what you can bring to a grieving person. Remember II Corinthians 1:3-4:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Walk beside them as you “mourn with those who mourn”. Here are four generally specific things you can do, especially during the holiday seasons:
- Be appropriately affectionate. Express your solidarity with them.
- Practice hospitality. Invite them into your home and life. Go to a ball game together.
- Be present physically. Don’t stay away because you just don’t know what to say.
- Be helpful in practical ways. Offer to mow their lawn, bring food, etc.
Tell them you care. But NEVER tell them that you know how they feel, because you don’t. It is a grave mistake to assume that others grieve in the same way you do or did.
Peace and Blessings,
Sugar Land, Texas
Workshop on Ministry in Times of Illness and Loss (MTIL-1), Lifeline Chaplaincy, Houston, Texas
The Unwanted Gift of Grief, Tim VanDuivendyk
Disclaimer statement: Please note that the opinions expressed herein are those of the Chaplain alone and are based on his personal understanding of scripture and how God works in our lives.
Read more Weekly Reflections: Chaplain’s Corner