Celebrating during a painful holiday

Celebrating during a painful holiday

Are you facing a pain filled holiday because someone you love has died?  It is hard to get into the holiday spirit when your heart is breaking and your life is different because of a death.  It is easy to want to wish away the last 16 days of this horrible year. Personally, I know what it’s like to struggle to celebrate during the holidays.  Three and a half years ago, my youngest son died at the age of 21, and the holiday spirit is sometimes hard to find.  I would like to make a few suggestions that might help you manage the next two weeks if you are grieving.


  • Be gentle with yourself. It can easily take two years to make the adjustment to living life without someone.  And remember time does not heal all wounds; it simply gives us time to adjust living with the wound and the scar it leaves.


  • Understand that the grief process is not methodical, stage one neatly followed by stage two until you have moved through the stages of grief. Instead of stages, think in terms of stories of grief that throw you back into a previous “stage” with which you thought you were done.  Grief bursts can last years.  Just last week, I was thinking about one of my son’s friends from elementary school, and I literally thought,“I will ask Jack about him the next time I see him.”  The grief burst came first followed by the tears. (Remember to be gentle with yourself.)


  • Be intentional about thinking about important traditions. Will it be most helpful to keep them exactly as before, completely skip over them this year or tweak them into something new that also honors the one you have lost.  When Jack died, I could not imagine NOT hanging his stocking, but I also couldn’t imagine hanging it and seeing it remain empty; that would be too painful.  I decided to hang his stocking and gradually fill it during the season, and then I gave it to one of his friends who was struggling financially.  I have done that every year since then.


I also want to say something to people who have faith in the two major events that give rise to this holiday season.  If a person of faith says, “I just don’t feel in the spirit,” beside not feeling the mood, they might also feel guilty.  How can a person of faith not celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas?   Hanukkah is a festive time commemorating the miracle that occurred in 164 BCE during the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.  Christmas is a festive time celebrating and commemorating the birth of Jesus.  What is there not to celebrate?  I encourage you to consider the entire story of those important events in those two faith traditions.

Hanukkah reminds us of the miracle of light that happened in the rededication of the temple after 200 years of Greek rule.  During the Greek reign the temple was desecrated when a statue of Zeus was erected, and pigs were sacrificed to Zeus on the altar. Christmas may be a time of angels, heavenly host, a baby and a star.  But all that came to pass because the people were being taxed and threatened by Herod, and they needed some salvation.  Both seasons come out of death and darkness.  Perhaps our grief puts us in the temple and closer to the manger than if we were not aware of that pain.

Martha Wright is the Director of the Institute for Spiritual Health and Wellness at CHRIS 180. She can be reached at Martha.Wright@CHRIS180.org.



Martha Wright
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