What to Do When Loss and Loneliness Cloud The Holidays

I have to say that Christmas is my all time favorite holiday of the year. We get inundated with romance, mystery, presents, family time, and good food. We get more time off and, if we are lucky, snow to play in. We drink eggnog or hot cocoa and nibble on baked goods while we overdose on Hallmark movies, Christmas music, and light displays. There is an overwhelming sense of magic and belief in happy endings. Nothing is impossible at Christmas.

But what do you do when the thing you want most really can’t happen?

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, you know that the thing you want more than any present under the tree is more time with that loved one alive again. If you just came out of a breakup or you’ve been single for a long time, the last thing you want is to be reminded of how alone you are romantically. Holiday gatherings get harder when people are missing from them–and that’s true whether it is a lost loved one or a missing partner that you haven’t even met yet.

My paternal grandfather loved family gatherings, and he made an especially big deal of Christmas. Before Christmas Eve, he took my cousins and I out for dinner and a movie at the theater. Then he took us to the local mall, gave us each twenty dollars, and let us shop. He was genuinely happy to see all the things we bought with his money that brought us joy. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would cook a steak dinner for the whole family. After dinner, we would gather in the living room, sing carols, read the Christmas story in Luke, and open presents. Presents were always extravagant toys or collectibles for the kids and nice kitchen goods for the adults. I remember one year when we all got Nintendo 64! My sister and I went home, set it up, and played Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt till our eyes nearly fell out of our heads. After presents at granddaddy’s house, there was still more. Gallon bags filled with candy, fruit, and nuts were passed out along with money envelopes to everyone present.

I never thought about money back when I was growing up, but I do now. I know my grandparents weren’t as rich as they seemed; they saved all year to be able to splurge like that on their family for Christmas. My paternal grandparents had come from less and worked hard to have more. Spending money on their family now made them feel joy and fulfillment. Nevertheless, the first Christmas after granddaddy passed away, it wasn’t the presents we missed from the room. There was a sadness and silence we could only address in prayer as we blessed the meal: we missed him. All we wanted, as we gathered together that Christmas, was more time with him.

Christmas is not Christmas anymore when grief over loss enters the room. Substitute whatever holiday in there that is important to you, and the same is still true: holidays suck when the people you love are missing.

Whether you are in the fresh wake of grief or you are a seasoned veteran to it, it can be hard to be cheerful at the holidays. It is okay to acknowledge your feelings while they are raw, but don’t let yourself be trapped by them. Grief is a process that has no timeliness, but emotions will control you if you don’t take control over them.

What I ultimately found helpful in my own seasons of loss and loneliness at the holidays was this: focus on the good you have not what you are missing and be thankful for the memories.

Sometimes forcing yourself to be cheerful for holidays’ sake brings the good memories to the surface. You begin to remember good times you had with your missed loved ones. Smile-worthy memories surface in the flood of sadness, and you find yourself thankful and happy again.

It may be hard to remember why you celebrate or to even celebrate at all, but do it anyway. Eventually it gets easier as you honor those who are passed as well as those who are still around to enjoy the holidays with you.

Celebrate the ones you love and the One who gave up His Son, Jesus Christ, as a gift of love for you.

Know that the pain you feel now will dissipate in time. Just don’t give up.