“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
This verse from the New Testament shows us that we have a place to share our grief, where it is a welcomed relief. We can rest from the burden of carrying it ourselves, and even if we feel alone, we are not. This verse gives us the promise of Christ coming alongside us when we call upon Him, and sharing the burden of our grief, which also gives us the skills to do the same for others. This gives purpose for our pain as we come full circle- not the same, but strengthened by using what we have experienced in our life to teach another the same lesson, and walking with them through their journey.
As we enter this holiday season, I want to offer hope to those who have experienced the loss of someone close to them over this past year. The first year after losing someone is the most difficult, and special occasions take on a new meaning. Holiday traditions, while bringing back memories, can be difficult to continue without the person that has always been involved and is in every photo. You may find yourself entering new territory, where your loved one has always been a part, and now you have mixed emotions.
The early stage of grief usually brings sadness, and even the thought of family gatherings without them seems impossible. Going deeper in the process there may be depression, where skipping the holidays altogether seems the best option. Still farther along the grief process, there may be guilt in enjoying the activities that have always brought joy. Please know that these are all normal and give yourself permission to feel all of these emotions! Grief only happens when we have loved deeply, and this is not to frighten us into never loving, but to give purpose in the healing of the losses of those we have loved.
A quote from one of my favorite authors perfectly describes the link between love and loss:
“If we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving, and love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen
One way we can tell how we are progressing in our grieving process, is in how we respond to the memories of our loved ones. My Dad died when he was only 56 years old, and while sharing memories, my siblings and I came to the realization that he had made us feel that each one of us was his favorite (although I am certain that I was!) Those same memories that began with tears now bring a smile or even laughter. It is so worth the process, to get to the point of remembering with joy. Remember that the cost of loving is the depth of the grief experienced in the loss of someone we trusted with our love, but it is always worth the loving!
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8
This verse could be the theme of a grief support group. Grief causes people to be like-minded, while going through a similar loss creates sympathy, creating a fellowship of love, allowing compassion to blossom, and finally instructing us in humility, not to think more highly of ourselves. Here we all can rest in the knowledge, that if we have honestly grieved the loss of a loved one, we have been obedient to this command. These words instruct us to use our experiences to minister to each other.
Everyone processes grief at a different pace, and there is no set finish line. More importantly- the experience is not wasted. I am not sure where you stand in this checklist of information, but this is such a relief to me! To know that the memories I carry, including the losses, are a reminder that even though we are all in a different place on our timeline of life, when looking back, I can see God’s timing is perfect. He prepares us, walks with us, and carries us through life circumstances, and we can rest in knowing that we are not alone in our process.
Grieving, especially through the holidays, may seem especially difficult, and this may require some planning to restructure activities and schedules. Knowing this in advance, and working with family members and friends, we can meet these challenges before they become insurmountable. Seek out sincere people who have offered their help, thus giving them the satisfaction of helping in such a personal way, while receiving training in how to help others.
These are life lessons, and we can share these with others when they are at their lowest, never wasting the lesson or the blessing. Finally, do not go through this alone. Seek out a support group or a trusted friend, and start creating new memories that honor the loved one that is no longer present. By taking these necessary steps, we can move forward, while still treasuring the memories that include those we love.
The writer is the Wilson Health Hospice chaplain.