Good Grief: A Way through the Holidays after a Loved One Dies


My favorite cartoon to watch is, and will always be, A Charlie Brown Christmas. There is something so poignant and sad, yet celebratory, about the story. On one hand, Charlie Brown works so hard to make Christmas special, and all he ends up with is a small, insignificant tree. On the other hand, the cartoon probably has the most memorable presentation of the Birth of Jesus, delivered by Linus in the school play.

This is the eighth Christmas after the death of my father. As a retired military chaplain, I understand that the holidays are difficult without a loved one next to you. This is even truer if the loved one will never be there again. After a loved one dies, life changes forever. Cooking a Thanksgiving meal isn't fun anymore. Putting up Christmas lights is painful. Being alone hurts, but being around a lot of relatives can be overwhelming.

When facing the holidays after a loved one dies, there are many things you can do to make it through. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start new traditions. If the old traditions are too painful to continue, consider starting new ones. In my family, my father always read Luke's version of the Birth of Christ at our Christmas gathering. My oldest brother tried to continue the tradition, but it never felt the same. We started asking the youngest grandchild to read the story, and it helped. Try something new.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen. I love the military tradition of the senior leadership serving food to the troops on Thanksgiving and Christmas. On deployment, we would often serve all day at various dining facilities. It was amazingly refreshing and helped us get through the lonely times without our families. I've found that when I'm sad, it helps to do something for someone else. Care for others is cure for the soul.
  • Give yourself permission to be happy. If something is funny, laugh. It can be annoying when people constantly ask, "How are you doing?" during the holidays. Most folks don't know how to talk about death and therefore get very serious around those who have lost loved ones. It's okay to have fun.
  • Find a GriefShare Group. Nothing will replace your loved one, but telling your story helps you move forward in your grief. The more you talk to someone about how you are dealing (or not dealing) with your pain, the easier it gets. Find someone you trust and share your life story. Many churches host GriefShare Groups. Find one that suits your needs.

Eric Whitmore serves as the associate endorser for Administration, Chaplaincy Calling and Endorsement for Texas Baptists.

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