Word for Word 12/6/23

Pastor Laura Gentry
Pastor Laura Gentry

Have a holly jolly Christmas! Um. No.

There’s lots of holiday cheer right now but if you’re grieving, you can’t join in the merriment. In fact, this season - with so much focus on joy and togetherness - can actually make you feel worse.

I’ve experienced a lot of grief myself. I remember Christmas the year my mom died. I refused to put up a tree, decorate, go to parties or send out cards. I just couldn’t stand how Mom’s absence upended all our family traditions. How could it even be Christmas without her? It’s gradually gotten easier over the years but this time of year still tugs at my heart and sometimes overwhelms me.

If you’re feeling this way, please know that you’re not alone. So many of us struggle as the holiday season approaches. It often feels impossible to carry the weight of our losses, especially in the face of overwhelming cultural pressure to enjoy the holidays.

In addition to my ministry in Lansing, I serve as a chaplain for Hospice at WinnMed. We recently held a memorial service for all those who have died in our care in the past year. We prayed, sang, read scripture and gave white roses to family members. I don’t think I saw a dry eye in the whole room. It was good to be together but it was painful, nevertheless. Unimaginably painful.

Well-meaning friends will sometimes advise grievers to “get over it” and get back to normal. Sadly, it’s not that simple. Grief takes a long, long time and there is no getting back to normal.

If your grief is fresh, please be extra compassionate with yourself right now. Take time for more sleep. Eat well and drink a lot of water. Lay off the mulled wine and other alcoholic seasonal beverages. Allow friends to support you and listen to your emotional outbursts. Talk to a counselor. Go get a massage if you can. Take the pressure off yourself to be cheerful. It’s okay that you’re not okay.

God will carry you through this darkness and eventually dawn will slowly begin to emerge. It may seem unrealistic, but you’ll experience joy again, perhaps you can have a merry Christmas somewhere down the line. Even so, your grief will be with you. You can learn to carry it, though, because love never ends.

In this upcoming holiday season, I encourage you to focus on that love that you continue to hold for your loved ones who have died. Tell stories about them and laugh whenever possible. Look through old photos. Donate to a charity in memory of them. Light a candle or create other rituals to honor them in the midst of your celebrations. They may be gone physically, but they are not forgotten and they remain in your heart. Let them take up as much space there as you can.

Christmas celebrates the Savior who came to bring peace to all the earth. Fellow griever, I see you and I pray that Christ’s coming will sing this peace to your heart.

Rev. Laura Gentry
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Lansing