Anticipation is a powerful part of the holidays. The preparations and planning can be as much fun and meaningful as the set aside celebratory day(s) on the calendar. Anticipation can also make you want to climb into bed and pull the covers over your head until the holidays and hoopla pass.
If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, or if the span of miles will prevent you from celebrating with someone you love this year, anticipating the holidays can be awful.
The loss or absence of a loved one is felt year round, but never more than the holidays. Somehow Thanksgiving and Christmas shine a glaring spotlight on the unavoidable reality you most want to forget, but simply cannot: There will be an empty chair at your table this year; Someone you love is missing.
As one who has carried grief so great that it threatened to steal any anticipatory joy, I’d like to share some ideas that may lighten your load:
1. GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE
Don’t wear yourself out trying to keep everything the same. You can simplify and still celebrate the holidays - one tree instead of two, a concentrated area of décor vs. your usual every nook & cranny, or inexpensive new ornaments if you can’t bear to unpack all your memory-laden ones just yet. The holiday is not HOW you’ve celebrated, it is WHY and WHO.
2. AVOID TOO MUCH HUSTLE AND BUSTLE
Overdone malls and long lines can be exhausting when your heart is already weary. This might be a good year to shop online or embrace gift certificates to favorite places and experiences.
3. HONOR THEIR MEMORY
I often wear a ring of my Mom’s during this season and I give a little kiss to every ornament she gave me before I place them on the tree. It may seem like a silly gesture, but I know she held them in her hands & carefully wrapped them with me in mind. That is still worth treasuring and I often thank God for every good memory I do have. You could give to your loved one’s favorite cause/charity, choose a live tree you can later plant in their memory, enjoy one of their favorite foods or celebrate their memory in a myriad of ways. The memories are still yours to enjoy.
4. LOVE THE ONES YOU’RE WITH
It can be a challenge, but don’t miss fully enjoying the loved ones who can join you because of sadness over those who cannot.
5. TRY SOMETHING NEW
You can always return to old traditions, but by all means do something different this year if it’s just too hard. Go to a Tree Farm, have a Christmas Eve Hot Chocolate Bar or a Make Your Own Pizza Gathering instead of your usual holiday spread, or see Christmas lights in your jammies.
6. FOCUS ON SOMEONE ELSE
A friend who can’t visit her family this year would probably love an invitation to join your family table. Families in need, children in shelters, low income schools...there’s a lot of people who could use some extra attention. Whether it’s a donation, visit, piece of warm clothing, or new supplies, there’s something cathartic about focusing on someone else’s needs.
7. BEWARE OF HOLIDAY MOVIES
These tender tales can hold within them some surprising emotional triggers. I had to avoid an old favorite for a couple years. Just keep some kleenex handy.
I am genuinely sorry if the thought of the holidays make you sad, and so hope you’ll find the above suggestions helpful. For some deserved empathy, please also check out The (Not So) Most Wonderful Time of Year. If you can’t see past the sadness, please contact a mental health care professional immediately. (If you’re in the Oklahoma City area, try Billie Burke Counseling, Christian Counseling Associates, or Family Christian Counseling.)
I am proof positive that God is big enough to restore your joy-filled anticipation and pray He fills your holidays with reminders of His presence.
Meet the Author!
Bible teacher, author, inspirational speaker and disciple-maker, Vickey Banks is passionate about helping women connect the dots between God’s Word and their everyday lives. She loves serving as Women’s Ministry Director at Council Road, celebrating her people, playing with her puppy and getting lost in a good story.