The next four weeks hold the best and most difficult days of the year. This is likely true for many people. This is a season of thankfulness, family, and hope. But it is also a season of loss, grief, and heartache. I know I’m not alone in this tension between joy and sorrow, celebration and mourning.
Even after nine years, we still miss my heart-sister, other-half of my twin best friends, mother of two wonderful children, daughter, wife, friend, sister. Jennie. How we miss your smile and laughter. Your hospitality, leadership, and love filled every room.
Jennie’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving…and it would be the last holiday she shared with family. December 10, halfway between two of the most celebrated holidays in America. This was the day we had to say goodbye to our dear Jennie. It was unexpected, painful, tragic, heartbreaking. The depth of grief was overwhelming and debilitating for all of us.
If you’ve experienced this type of deep grief, you know what it means to celebrate when your heart is aching for that missing someone. You understand the effort it can take to heal so that you can once again laugh for real and truly find joy in special moments that would be more complete with your loved one(s) around you.
This year will mark our 10th Christmas without Jennie and 5th Christmas without Dad. I still miss them—will always miss them—and still I celebrate and seek to allow the full joy of Thanksgiving and Christmas to fill me. I may cry more easily during this season than normal, I may find myself short of breath from the sudden grief that constricts my heart, yet I will joy in the God of my salvation.
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
I will be thankful that God holds our lives in His hands. I will rejoice that Jennie and Dad are with Jesus and living more fully than I can imagine. I will remember that from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus Christ who offers us all eternal life.
I will remember the good times, trust in the kindness and grace of Jesus, and live this life to the full to honor God. This is what God desires of us, and this is what Jennie and Dad would want too. Love does not want us to live miserable, angry, and wounded. Love wants us to find healing, hope, and joy in the presence of God, family, and friends. This doesn’t mean we stop hurting or missing those who have gone to heaven before us. It simply means we acknowledge the sovereignty of God and remember that He is good. We may experience grief, but we can simultaneously experience God’s goodness.
If you are grieving a loved one in this season, hang in there. It can feel so bad, hurt so much, and make you so very angry. Let yourself grieve. Don’t pretend to be ok. Talk to God, He can take the truth of what you are feeling. Let Him have it all…the pain, confusion, hurt, grief, anger, numbness, or hypersensitivity. Holding it in will not bring healing.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Then let God speak to you, let Him hold you close, let Him whisper words of hope and healing. Grief is a process. I’ll be honest, it stinks. It feels unbearable and unending, but God is a difference maker. He won’t leave your side and will carry you when you are too weak to go on. Don’t push Him away; draw close to Him.
“Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
(This verse was whispered over me following my father’s death and aptly reflected my soul’s disposition after wrestling with anxiety and grief.)
If you haven’t experienced this type of grief before, let me give you a word of advice. Don’t ignore the pain of others, don’t litter your discussion with well-intentioned platitudes such as “she’s in a better place,” “everything happens for a reason,” or even “he’d want you to be happy.” These statements are not helpful when in the throes of fresh grief and will not bring comfort. (At least they didn’t for me, they just made me want to lash out at the messenger.)
Instead, acknowledge their pain, be open to what they need…it may be a shoulder to cry on, someone to make them laugh, or simply an offer to help in some way that only you see. God will help you, it may be awkward and uncomfortable. Grief is the price of love. Walking a few steps with someone who is grieving is an act of love. One that will not go unnoticed by the person receiving your gift of comfort.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
Let us rejoice and be thankful in this season and let us turn to God when seasons of mourning press in upon us.