By Karen Katafiasz

Christmas and grieving don’t fit together. Christmas, as popular culture tells us, is supposed to be joyful, lively, cheery, and warm, filled with family and friends. Grief, on the other hand, is a painful, difficult, and often lonely journey that can shake you to your core.

While Christmas is bright red and green and sparkling silver and gold, grief is gray and dreary. Christmas is joyful carols and jolly tunes. Grief is hushed sounds and quiet tears. Christmas is abundance and fullness of life. Grief is emptiness and loss.

Yet the reality is that when you have lost a loved one, grieving becomes an inseparable part of your Christmas experience. For the first year, certainly, the death of your loved one will affect your observance of Christmas in many significant ways. But grief is an extended journey, and as you face a second Christmas, then a third, and later ones, too, you realize that Christmas has been changed forever by your loved one’s death. During what used to be among the happiest times of the year, you’re feeling a persistent ache in your heart.

Working Your Way Through
The comforting and wonderful fact is that within Christmas itself lies a powerful way for you to move through your grief. Your memories of Christmases past can soothe your hurt, make the spirit of your loved one present, and help you integrate your loss into your life. Here are some suggestions for using your Christmas memories to heal your grief.

Accept the memories as they come.
Your first impulse, especially early in your grief, may be to avoid memories altogether. Thoughts of your loved one as part of past holiday festivities, moments you’ll never enjoy again, may seem nearly unbearable at first, only underscoring the harsh truth that he or she is gone forever.

It’s natural to want to prevent more pain, especially during the season of lightness and joy. But the pain will be there, below the surface, despite what you do, and inevitably your grief will demand your attention.

Share your memories with others and listen to theirs.
For you or for others in your family, Christmas may have been one of the few occasions each year that you were with your loved one. As a result, past Christmases may provide some of the richest memories that you and other family members have. And because Christmas is such a special, vibrant season, your recollections of your loved one at Christmastime are often heightened and vivid.

Storytelling is a traditional part of Christmas, and what better opportunity to share stories of your loved one than when you are gathered together in love and celebration? Remember stories that show your loved one’s unique and endearing qualities. Remember the funny stories, too. Sharing laughter is as important a part of healing as tears.

Remember your loved one in your Christmas traditions.
As you decorate, you can use ornaments and other decorations that were important to your loved one. Sing a carol that was a favorite. Continue rituals that you once shared and cherished together. If your loved one enjoyed a favorite food item at the holiday table, you can make sure to include it. And if she or he contributed a particular dish, what a lovely tribute it would be to use the recipe to create it again.

If you miss the joy of giving your loved one a present at Christmas, consider following the suggestion of grief counselor Darcie D. Sims: “Buy a simple gift that you know he or she would have liked and give it to someone who otherwise would not have a gift.” You can also donate to a charity in your loved one’s name. In the spirit of the season, you may want to choose a charity that provides gifts for children and adults in need. Doing so, you both remember and honor your loved one in a unique way and brighten someone else’s holiday.

Let the blessing of memories ease your grief.
While memories can be painful, they can also bring great joy. Through your memories, you can know once more the happiness of a past moment and experience the spirit of your loved one. You can sense how your loved one remains a part of you, as you cherish his or her continuing presence. Memories can send your heart soaring and fill you with gratitude for all the ways your loved one has made your life richer.

Find consolation and wisdom in the meaning of Christmas.
As both a winter holiday and a religious celebration, Christmas provides eloquent and forceful symbols for those who are grieving. The season of light, it contests the darkness that surrounds the winter solstice and shines as a warm, festive glow in the harshness of the cold.

But just as the Christmas holiday brings light and warmth and life to the winter, the deeper significance of Christmas can give consolation and wisdom to your desolate spirit. Let its message of love fill your heart and reveal to you what matters most. And then, surrounded by people you cherish, remember your loved one and all the ways he or she enriched your life.

At Christmas you can embrace the fullness of life perhaps more so than at any other time of the year. Grieve with your Christmas memories. Open your arms wide and accept both loss and life.

Take heart.
Through memory, you evoke the joy you once knew. Let your remembrances give you hope that someday you will move through your grieving and know joy once more. At some point, the grieving path will become the living path. Place yourself within the warmth and light of Christmas, open your heart to its magic and mystery, and treasure the memories of your loved one. Be comforted by the Christmas message of life and grace, and know that your loved one’s spirit endures. Let Christmas be a gift for your grief.

This excerpt taken from How Christmas Memories Can Bring Healing To Your Grief CareNote.

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