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Coping With Grief and The Holidays - Chronically Whole

Coping With Grief and The Holidays

December 13, 2015 | Posted in: Chronic illness and relationships, chronic illness; support, Grief

When my oldest, Hayden, was small we filled the holiday season with festivities. Christmas cookies in pajamas, visiting Santa, driving around at night to look at the Christmas lights, watching our favorite Christmas movies, making and wrapping gifts…these were just a few of our favorite activities.


My social media feeds are filled with smiley-faced people doing these exact things. And then, there’s me. I managed to do the first of my Christmas shopping last night and I’m sincerely hoping to accomplish some sort of festive something with my youngest this week. But you see, there’s just not enough of me anymore. I can no longer burn the holiday candle at both ends, celebrating until the cows come home. I can now drag my bedraggled body to a few holiday concerts that are put on by my kiddos’ schools if I’m lucky. I can order some presents online and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas online.

I remember the first Christmas I was sick. I pushed myself so hard trying to be who I once was and to meet that unseen holiday expectation in my mind. And when I couldn’t, I ran right smack dab into a wall of grief.

I’ve come to realize that grief is just as common of an emotion this time of year as unbridled joy and celebration Click To Tweet What and why are people grieving? Well, there are many reasons people might be grieving or their grief may be intensified this time of year.

  • They may be grieving functionality: The holiday season comes with a high demand for activity and involvement as well as a renewed awareness of your inability to meet this demand. Decreasing functionality may be highlighted by the season and create a sharp increase in grief and sadness.
  • They may be grieving traditions: As folks come face to face with reduced functionality this inevitably means taking part in fewer precious traditions. This loss creates pain and grief.
  • 1418_51659021807_7772_nThey may be grieving unmet expectations: Unable to meet their idea of what the “perfect holiday” should look like, people might be grieving those unmet expectations. Whether you battle chronic illness or not, those unspoken expectations have a way of hijacking the holidays.
  • They could be grieving people: No matter how long it’s been since you lost your loved one, the holidays have a way of intensifying that grief. Of course, you want to be sharing these special times with those special people. Maybe someone you know is battling illness and it is especially painful to watch in the holiday season. What should feel joyful, instead, feels heavy, like a pain radiating from your bones.

I remember that when my older brother, Matt, was in the hospital battling cancer, he had many visitors. Some were pastors from our local church. They would come in their three-piece suits, quote a scripture, pray a quick prayer and then be on their way. I’m sure they were taught in seminary not to be a burden to those in pain, to be encouraging and Bible-based…but it didn’t help us. In fact, I hated those visits. They felt so detached, so somehow superior to our hurt, our desperation, and aching. However, we had these volunteer youth pastors. They worked full-time jobs but led our rag tag youth group in their “spare time.” They called me once a week to see how I was coping with everything. Sometimes, I just cried on the phone. They visited the hospital each day, in jeans, straight from work. They sat on the edge of the bed and played cards, brought my brother contraband skittles and sometimes ordered pizza for dinner. Twenty years later, my heart still warms at the thought, the thought of being met in my pain and in my grief.

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Did they ask before they sat on the bed with my brother? I’m sure they did. Did they ever have to go home early because my brother was just too sick for visitors? I’m sure they did. Did they ever wait in the hall for hours just to see if we needed anything? You bet they did.

And when the first Christmas rolled around and Matt’s stocking wasn’t hung, I didn’t have to say a word. They saw the empty space on the wall and the tears came. They didn’t have any great, wise words that day. Just tears. Tears that spoke all my heart needed to hear.

If this holiday season someone around you is grieving, can I encourage you to throw off the three-piece suit and worries about having the right words and just offer what you have? Maybe it’s a game of cards, a pizza, some heartfelt tears, a home cooked meal. Just meet them in their pain and grief. I promise you, they’ll never forget it.


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  1. Brooke
    December 14, 2015

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    thank you for sharing your struggle – and ways we can truly help those struggling around us.

  2. Clare Speer
    December 14, 2015

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    So so beautiful – and a much needed practical word! God bless those volunteer youth pastors – who you will remember for the rest of your lives! Every year I struggle since the loss of my parents (now over 4 years) …. and a little piece of my heart breaks off during the holidays which is hard! Thank you for the reminder there are all kinds of ways people grieve and many different reasons!

  3. Brianna
    December 15, 2015

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    Holding a space for you friend. Your heart is so dear to me. ((hugs))

  4. Stacey Philpot
    December 15, 2015

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    Clare- I think it’s those people who love us well when life is falling apart and our hearts are crumbling that forever leave their mark on our lives. Four years is nothing when it comes to trying to learn that new normal. Much love to you in this season.

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