SLD Blog

When it’s Hard to Celebrate

It is not my intention to bring a melancholy tone to the holidays, but let’s face it, Christmas isn’t always “Merry.”  All of us have grieved the loss of someone, and the holidays seem to amplify the loss. My mother-in-law played a huge part in my life and went to heaven just days before Christmas.  It was a somber holiday, for her presence was sorely missed.

Family gatherings and seasonal events can be painful reminders of the absence of a loved one. At the same time, they can also be comforting rituals where you spend time with family and friends, focusing on good memories and trying to recapture your sense of joy.  So how do we navigate the holidays?  Possibly one or two of the following suggestions may be helpful to you.

  • Only do what feels right. This is a very vulnerable time for you, and possibly there are traditions or activities that you may not be able to handle this year.  Be open and honest about what is manageable to you this year.  You don’t need to give a long, detailed reason for your absence.  Be gentle with yourself.
  • Accept the feelings that arise. Remember…. everyone grieves differently.  There is no automatic timeline.  Some feel they are letting others down because they are not enjoying a holiday; others feel guilty because they are feeling joy. Whatever you may be feeling, accept it. And accept the inevitable ups and downs.
  • Call for support. Talk to trusted family and friends about what you are feeling.  If you would like to try a holiday event, go with someone who can be a “buddy.”  Have a plan of exit if all becomes too overwhelming.
  • Find a support group…. especially during the holidays. There are bereavement groups in your town or online.  This step may help you find a way to navigate holiday activities.
  • Plan ahead. Often the anticipation is far worse than the activity itself.  If a traditional activity is too difficult, maybe planning a new activity might be more comforting for this year. Create realistic expectations for yourself and others.
  • Scale back. If the thought of many holiday activities feels painful, overwhelming, or inappropriate this year, cutting back may help. For example, you might opt for minimal decorations at home and take a break from sending holiday greetings or try e-greetings instead of the more time-consuming task of mailing greeting cards.

In 1861 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of the most famous poets in the world. Henry and his wife had spent 18 very happy years together, and they were raising five children. It was then that Fanny lost her life in a tragic fire. The years that followed brought Longfellow depression and loneliness. The fact that Americans were killing each other in the Civil War didn’t help. To make matters worse, during the height of the war, Henry’s and Fanny’s only living son, Charles, snuck away and joined the Union army against his father’s wishes. On December 1, 1863, Henry received a telegram saying that his son had been badly wounded.

Longfellow dealt with his grief in the only way he knew how…. he put pen to paper and wrote the words to the well-known Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells.” When you sing through the verses, you can read how Longfellow is grappling with grief during a season of joy:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair, I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Longfellow was willing to share his grieving process, and share his ups and downs in this recorded account.  His transparency has touched the lives of millions. God has a way of bringing good out of even the most painful events in life.

If you are grieving this Christmas, emotions may take over, but in your heart of hearts, may you be comforted by the thought that “God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!”

Find strength in Him.



written by Major Lauren Hodgson, USA East SLD