The Holidays and Grief

Being sensitive to those who grieve

by Aaron Schaut/ December 2, 2015

I will never forget that night. As my two young boys excitedly hung ornaments on our Christmas tree with Grandma and Grandpa, holiday music playing in the background, I sat on the couch fighting back tears. I was trying to keep that night the great family tradition that it had always been. I struggled to control my emotions, but it was too much to hold in. I crumpled onto the couch and let the weeping take over. “Amy is supposed to be here,” I thought. “This is her thing!” It just wasn’t the same without her.

For most of us, Christmas is a time of joy, filled with warm memories of friends and family—as it should be. But for those who have lost a loved one, the holiday gatherings and celebrations can be challenging. Having lost my wife a month before the holiday season 10 years ago, I’d like to share a few ideas from my experiences of how we can help others around us who are dealing with loss in their lives. 

Allow for the grieving process

Each person’s grief is different. Allow them the freedom and dignity to express their hurt and healing process in their own way. Don’t tell them how they should be feeling. It was the people who felt comfortable with (or at least allowed for) my expression of emotion, and sometimes lack thereof, that helped me the most.

Just be present for them

Grief is never clean, easy, or predictable. Ministering to people who are dealing with loss is messy, and that scares people! No one likes being in a situation where they don’t know what to say—or worse yet, where we could say the wrong thing. The natural response is to avoid such situations, which means avoiding the person who has experienced loss. But for a person in grief, it’s not really about what you say, it’s about simply being there. Those who God used most in my healing process were those who were not afraid to be around me and just be themselves. You’d be surprised the people who simply avoid you. I am thankful for those who loved me enough to take the risk to be around me. They chose to invite me into their lives and didn’t allow my situation to alienate me.

Give them the opportunity to be “normal” again

Invite those who are grieving to engage in every day life activities with you. Give them the opportunity to feel normal again and to have permission to go through holiday traditions with you. Those who have lost loved ones need to experience that while life will be different, that doesn't mean it has to be bad.

Understand that God is the ultimate healer

Only God can truly heal a broken heart. In fact, Scripture tells us that He is close to the broken hearted.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Psalm 34:18

Trust that God will provide the strength and peace that is needed for the grieving process. And be thankful that God is using you to bring healing in another’s life.