Advent Reflections: Finding Joy in Grief

A personal reflection from Gina Rees, LMSW

The time of year is here again when the media and retailers have us visualizing our holiday to look like a Norman Rockwell painting; chestnuts on the open fire and all of us gathering around the table.  This can elicit a great amount of anxiety for those of us that have lost a loved one.  Around our table someone very dear to us is missing.  The empty chair is a true realization that our loved one will NOT be home for Christmas.  When we hear Bing Crosby sing the song and make that promise, we are likely to start to yell at the radio.
Be Present with grief and acknowledge it.  Discuss your feelings or fears about the upcoming holiday and talk about it with friends or other family members.  The odds are that they are having similar thoughts or feelings.  Being able to talk about your grief not only eases the pain but helps move the process forward.  We know that with the death of a loved one it can take a lifetime to heal, but throughout that lifetime we can often encounter joy.  I have learned to cling to God’s Word.  God promises that nothing can separate us from God's love. “Do you think anything or anyone can drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hate, not homelessness, not threats, backstabbing, not even the worst of sins can keep us from His love!” Romans 8:38 (The Message)  I cannot evaluate God’s love for me by my circumstances.
Hold On to Traditions The loss of someone dear to us sometimes means the loss of certain traditions.  Possibly, this person was the one to always put the cookies out for Santa or was the one to gather everyone for a football game in the front yard.   We can honor that person by keeping that tradition alive and verbalize that we must carry on the tradition to honor them.  This will give a sense of stability to other friends and family members.  There can still be a lot of joy and laughter associated with these honored traditions.  Reflection on our memories can remind us of humorous stories providing levity to a sometimes tense and emotional situation.  Some new traditions may even be created that will sweeten the memory of the one you’ve lost. 
Practice Joy Be intentional about doing the things you love, and give yourself permission to be joyful.  In addition, when striving to turn your grief and sorrow into joy, define what actually is ‘joy’ to you. Somehow, you can learn from the life of your loved one, use it positively as an inspiration, and in a way that would make him or her proud. Honoring someone’s good qualities and ideologies is a great way to honor that person. Furthermore, it enriches your own life without the slightest tinge of guilt.  Remembering that God is good, I can always trust God, God wants to grow and prosper me, and that God is my champion has given me the strength I've needed to handle grief in my life.

Circumstances will change. People will change. Surroundings will change. But God promises me, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).