Christmas—it’s a time of wonder, magic, joy, peace and those warm-hearted feelings that make December “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for those of us who have lost loved ones, this season may be marked by grief, loneliness, doubt and fear. Traditions that used to bring joy now bring a flood of tears. Crowded rooms feel hauntingly lonely because someone is missing. Nothing feels the same. Our hearts echo the hymn lyrics, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”
In March of 2010, my husband passed away, leaving behind two small children and me. Just when I felt like the fog of grief was starting to lift, the holidays rolled around. Christmas had always been my favorite time of year, but as I faced my first Christmas without my husband, I did not know how to navigate the season anymore.
I wanted our family to hang his ornaments on the tree but was terrified we would break one. Setting up the nativity scene he bought me on our trip to Israel had been my favorite part of preparing for Christmas. Now it just left me a crying mess. I wanted to enjoy the season, but the weight of grief threatened to rob me of the joy that celebrating Christ’s birth should bring. But over the last three years, I have learned how to celebrate both the Christmas season and the memories of my husband in a sweet way that leads my heart to worship.
It’s okay to grieve…
Grief is painful and complex. In the midst of it, we face a strong temptation to push it down and ignore it. To move on. I have battled the lie that enjoying life means I must have forgotten my husband or didn’t love him as much as I claimed. I have experienced guilt for feeling sad and lonely—for surely if I really loved and trusted God, I would not still be feeling these things.
The truth is, it’s okay for me to grieve. Jesus grieved. And God is big enough to handle all the emotions and questions that come with my grief. Instead of being frustrated or disappointed in my grief, He comforts me in it. I can take my broken heart to God without fearing rejection, confident that He will be my refuge. In being honest about my grief, I begin to find healing.
It’s good to remember and celebrate.
While it is important to grieve, it is also important to remember and celebrate what is good. With Christmas come traditions and memories. Don’t run from them. Christmas will never again be exactly the same after the death of someone special. But it can still be sweet and joy-filled. Take time to remember and share the happy memories of your loved one. Hang a special ornament to honor them. Listen to their favorite song and sing along. Make their favorite Christmas treat and enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying life. Celebrating does not disrespect their memory—it honors it.
Look to Jesus.
In all that comes with navigating the Christmas season after the loss of a loved one, look to Jesus. In your grief, remember Jesus. In your joy, remember Jesus. The whole point of Christmas is to remember Jesus! We remember the tragedy of sin entering God’s perfect world. We remember the precious promise God made to send a Rescuer to save us from sin. We remember the centuries of waiting for the promised Rescuer and how it showed us our desperate need for Him. We remember that God kept His promise and sent Jesus to rescue us! He was born a humble baby, fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life, died an undeserved death to take the punishment for our sins and defeated death in His resurrection. We remember that Jesus promised He would return to make all things new. And in remembering Jesus, we grieve and celebrate with hope.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
May this Christmas season be one of hope as we grieve and celebrate. As we look to Jesus, may our hearts rejoice. Emmanuel has come! And He will come again.