Grief at Christmas

Will this be a difficult Christmas for you? Amid all the activities and festivities, is your heart breaking as you miss the presence of a loved one? Loss comes in many different forms and the associated grief manifests differently for each of us.

Your grief may be new or surface afresh after many years. I know of many for whom Christmas this year will be a balance between grief and joy. Those two seem diametrically opposed, yet they can coexist, despite being an emotional juggling act.

Following are some ways to handle grief during the holidays:

Scale Down Commitments

It’s easy to overschedule in December, but when dealing with grief, give yourself permission to say “no,” even it’s something you traditionally participate in. Grief often translates into physical exhaustion, so be flexible based on your energy level. Do what you feel you can handle, but don’t push yourself just because you don’t want to let someone down. If others don’t understand, that’s their issue not yours.

Don’t Swallow Grief

Grief is unpredictable, coming at times that don’t seem to make sense, triggered by something you can’t even quantify.

The year my father died, grief wrapped its tendrils around my heart while singing in the choir, a time when I most wanted to control my emotions. Several years later, while Christmas shopping, I saw a man in the mall I was sure was my father. In my head, I knew it wasn’t, but my heart wanted it to be Daddy. I walked toward the man and was almost to him before I could convince myself it was not who I wanted it to be. Thankfully, the man was gracious when I explained.

Perhaps you are experiencing something similar, an emotional outpouring at a location or event you associate with your loved one. Or thinking your see your loved one in a familiar setting.

Avoid suppressing grief. Let it come. Let grief show. Don’t worry about what others think. Grief is a personal journey, unique to each of us. Healing comes incrementally as you process grief.

Find Joy in Simple Pleasures

Grief squeezes the heart and can suffocate joy, if we allow it. Find joy in simple activities. Surround yourself with people who make you happy or things that hold fond memories.

For me simple joys include: practicing our choir Christmas music and presenting it at church, shopping for our grandchildren, ornamenting my home with Christmas decorations that were my mother’s, and watching everyone else open their presents and seeing their reaction. Find joy throughout the Christmas season in simple pleasures.

Savor Memories

I cherish memories from my childhood and Christmases when our children were young.

I remember the Christmas Daddy and I went on a clandestine Christmas Eve mission to pick up a grandfather clock Daddy had made for Mama. I will always remember the warmth of the woodworker’s shop behind his house and the excitement of bringing the clock into the house the next morning before Mama was up.

Christmas always included celebrations with both sides of the family. The wild fun of the Neely Christmas party with cousins by the dozens, and the calmer Scruggs Christmas are etched on my memory. Now, watching the delight and excitement of grandchildren fills my heart with joy.

While memories sometimes bring a nostalgic longing to be with loved ones who are no longer present, cherished memories remind us of the bond of family ties and bring thankfulness for all the ways God has blessed us.

View the Future with Hope

When grief is fresh, navigating a new normal during the holidays can be hard. Even though year-end marks the close of a sad season, it’s also hard to put a bookend on that particular year. In some ways it doesn’t make sense to lament closing a difficult year, but leaving that type of marker behind can be challenging. How do you cope?

Look forward to the new year with anticipation. That doesn’t mean forgetting the person or the associated memories. Looking ahead fuels forward motion, trusting for a new, brighter season, and the comfort and peace only God can give. As you move ahead, trust God to guide your steps and ease the transition.

“Now may God, the fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him. And may the power of the Holy Spirit continually surround your life with his super-abundance until you radiate with hope!” (Romans: 15:13 TPT)


Candy Arrington is a writer, blogger, speaker, and freelance editor. She often writes on tough topics with a focus on moving through, and beyond, difficult life circumstances. Candy has written hundreds of articles, stories, and devotionals published by numerous outlets including:,,,,, Focus on the Family,,, and Writer’s Digest. Candy’s books include Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Well (Bold Vision Books), When Your Aging Parent Needs Care (Harvest House), and AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B&H Publishing Group).

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