A few helpful tips for negotiating the holidays. At the WARM place and even at HOPE (the two support groups I attended with my children in the early days of our grief) we heard and were taught a lot about holiday plans and grief.
In short, they said to make a plan and even if you did not stick to it to write it down. Some even planned to do nothing, so “NOTHING” was written across their Holiday plan in bright bold letters. I prepared a lesson for my “Heart to Heart” girls at church this fall and thought sharing the points might help you a out a bit as you begin navigating the Holidays this week. If you would like for me to email you a PDF of the Holiday planning sheet that I included with this lesson you can email me HERE.
“Family traditions and rituals observed around milestones and holidays represent an express of the values and relationships that we hold most precious.”
~ Adapted from Article: “It Won’t Be The Same This Year” by Dr. Linda E. Jordan~
For the bereaved parent any holiday or milestone can be both traumatic and emotional as the family tries to find their bearings after the death of a child. First holidays are typically the most difficult, though in some cases reports of the second year’s experiences being more intense have occurred. As we grieve, it is important to acknowledge before we are in the midst of the holidays that nothing will be the same this year. Things simply are not the same, our child is not here with us and we are not the same person we were before the loss.
There are ways to not only survive, but also still observe meaningful and special times with your family even in a state of grief. Some will be comforted by keeping the traditions the same while others will want to change everything about the special event or do absolutely nothing at all.
Before we get to the list, I want to ask you to journal through the following questions:
What concerns do you have about the upcoming holiday season?
How are you feeling about observing the holidays?
Do you have any other special days or milestones that are approaching which give you concern?
What are they and when will they occur?
Do you have a plan for the holidays?
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)
When negotiating the holidays there are several key things we can do to help us get through these milestone and tradition related events.
“Intentionally choosing what is meaningful and eliminating what is stressful will go a long way in making the holidays and other special days more bearable.”
~ From the article “It Won’t Be The Same This Year” by Dr. Linda E. Jordan~
1. Do your best to maintain a QUIET TIME.
This may be the most vital part of your holiday plan. Staying connected to the Lord through His Word and prayer is a powerful tool in negotiating difficult seasons of our life. My pastor, Robert Morris, has taught a series called Elevate that is available through James and Betty Robinson’s television program (http://www.lifetoday.org/). In that series he gave four basic steps for maintaining a 15 minute quiet time each day.
Quiet Your Mind. (Psalm 131:2, Psalm 46) Be still and know that He is God. Put your “to do” list away and slow down. Sit quietly and let the busyness of your day fall away.
Focus Your Mind. (Psalm 100:2,4) Worship is a great way to focus. Put on some praise music and worship, or – as Pastor Robert said, “Sing the song to him that is in your heart.” A few weeks back, I woke up every day with the song, “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston “playing like an 8-track” on repeat in my head. I kept repeating the words as I did the dishes or put on my make-up until finally after 14 days I cried out to God, “Why is that the song in my heart today?” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than I looked back in the mirror and for the first time in my life saw myself through the Lord’s eyes. Not the broken down, overweight woman who had lived hard and loved hard all her life. But, instead a captivating heart with a soul and mind to match as the Spirit seemed to shine right through me. He wanted me to know that He is the Greatest Love of All and that He is happening to me… all the time. SING THE SONG YOU WAKE UP WITH IN YOUR HEART TO GOD. If your voice doesn’t sound great, sing it in your head or go in your closet so as not to upset the family… but sing with the sincerity of your heart in worship to God and recenter your mind on his goodness and his greatness in your life.
Pray Your Mind. Allow yourself to enter into His presence and talk with Him about what is on your heart and your mind. Your quiet time with God should be a time when you pray until the burden shifts. Praying is truly about releasing the burden from our shoulders to God’s (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of being a good steward is praying over everything God has given you. Have a conversation with God. Conversations involve two things: Speaking and Listening. This is not the time to pray your lists or fill out forms trying to complete successful “quiet time” formulas. This should be a time when your entire being becomes centered and focused on who God is and what He is doing in your life… and How He wants you to respond. Your quiet time should never add more stress to your life. If you are still burdened after you pray… You haven’t done it right. Pray until the burden shifts.
Renew Your Mind. (Romans 12:1-2) The Bible is the key to renewing your mind. Read His Word and journal through it. All you need is a blank page, a pen and a passage of Scripture. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear what God wants to reveal to you that day. You will find Him when you seek Him with all of your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Allow Him to reveal Himself to you in revelation and quiet love. If all you can handle is one verse of Scripture hang onto it and allow God to minister it to the deepest places in your heart and soul. His Word is a healing balm that brings restoration (Psalm 119, Psalm 107:10).
2. Make a WRITTEN plan.
Writing down our intentions is one of the best ways to be intentional about our time. God’s Word says that He has a plan for each and every one of us. (Jeremiah 29:11) When we don’t know what to do we can always trust His heart. When in doubt, pray it out. And make the written plan based on what the Lord is telling you to do. (For a copy of the written plan form that goes with this lesson, email me.)
3. Give yourself permission to do NOTHING this one time.
4. Allow your FAMILY to help you plan.
Including other members of your family in the Holiday planning and assigning responsibility will help to take all the pressure off of you to determine what to do or not to do, what traditions to maintain and which ones to do away with… “Test everything, hold on to the good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NIV).
5. Expect MIXED EMOTIONS about the holidays.
6. Give yourself permission to CRY.
Crying helps us to process our loss. It is an expression of our sadness and when we cry tears of sadness and grief it causes our body to release the stress that is related to that sadness. The Grief Recovery Institute did studies related to crying and grief and found that those who simply cry do not heal as fast as those who cry and talk through their feelings as they cry – find a place to let it out whether it is a good friend who offers their shoulder or a support environment with a counselor or others who are grieving as you are. Allowing yourself to cry is healthy and it is not a symbol of weakness to express your God-given emotions about your loss.
7. It’s okay to KEEP everything or to keep NOTHING the same.
8. If there are small children in the home, try to keep the holiday or milestone as NORMAL as possible. They need a SENSE that some things in their life are the SAME.
9. Keep it SIMPLE. Don’t try to do too MUCH.
Simplifying your life and your schedule will do much to alleviate stress in your life. Do what is meaningful to you and your family and discard traditions that hold less value. I used to send out an extensive Christmas card list. The first year after Justin died, I signed every card with the SEVEN names of our family, Justin inlcuded. It was too painful and difficult for me to process so I just did not send those cards out. I have not reinstituted the Christmas card tradition, though I try. I sent out Christmas letters the year after Justin died, which seemed to help more.
10. Take CARE of yourself.
Make regular hair appointments, get a massage or go to the nail salon for the afternoon. Be sure to go to the doctor and get a check-up as you grieve. Grief takes a toll on our physical body and you may need the attention of a physician to fully recover. Make time to do things to take care of yourself. It is quite all right to take time out of your schedule to relax in a hot tub, sip a comforting beverage and read a good book or light a relaxing, fragrant candle. Make time in your plan for you.
11. Help OTHERS during the holidays.
We usually select a male child from our church’s Christmas charity program and spend the same amount on that child we would spend on Justin. Because our new church has a spending limit assigned to each child, we usually pick two and so we bless others in honor of our son. It is just one of the ways we can give back from the blessings we’ve been given. And, it helps to have somewhere to focus the time and energy I would spend missing buying him gifts on others. If buying gifts isn’t possible, sign up to distribute them or to serve meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. It will help you to pass the otherwise difficult hours of the day by focusing on others needs rather than your own.
12. Allow yourself to experience the ANTICIPATION EMOTIONS.
In my own grief, I’ve found the build up to holiday and milestone events is more emotional than the actual days. So by allowing myself to process those emotions as they come, I am better prepared to move into those difficult seasons and days with less stress and fear of how I will respond. Plus, by processing my anticipation emotions with God, I get his perspective in many ways that help me to make decisions and overcome any negative feelings I may be having. Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, “Who Switched Off My Brain?” is a great read on the subject of why we need to process and release toxic emotions in our lives.
13. Don’t AVOID the lead-in to holidays, anniversaries and birthdays.
Stuffing is never healthy. Again, Read the comments for point 12 – and allow yourself to anticipate upcoming difficult days so that God’s mercy and comfort can guide the way.
Allow God to deal with how you feel, what you are going through and allow Him to fill the empty places inside of you with His Spirit and His love. He will see you through.
Remember, holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and other milestone events are days the Lord has made and designed for celebrating….
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (NIV)
He wants us to trust Him when it hurts the most.