By Rev. Paul Graves
If you have experienced any kind of significant grief within the past year—or the past 50 years for that matter—you know that a holiday season can be a particularly difficult time. Grief, whether new or old, has a way of intruding into your daily life during moments you normally think of as positive and celebratory.
Do you find yourself dreading holiday seasons like Christmas because you don’t want your grieving memories to “ruin” the holiday? If I may be so bold: consider an alternative way of dealing with your grief this Christmas.
Instead of looking for ways to keep grief out of your emotional house, invite it in for a cup of cocoa, coffee, tea, or even a glass of wine. While you and your grief are sharing your drinks at the kitchen table or by the fire, sit quietly (tough to do!) and you may learn better about grief’s real reasons for being in your life.
As you learn more about why grief visits both you—or anyone who has had some kind of important loss—you just might consider the possibility that “grief” could become your friend. Let me just say it plainly: I don’t think grief visits us to make us miserable. I think grief’s real task is to take our love to a deeper level.
Yes, I do know we have to get past that miserable part before we can see grief doing us any favors. And the misery is real, isn’t it! Daily it seems, I learn of people who have lost children, parents, spouses, and siblings to death. The emotional suffering is very real.
But it can have real-life, negative consequences if not given the emotional respect it is due. To deny that we live with grief is also to deny that we live. Period! We do need to take grief symptoms seriously. But that doesn’t mean we have to fear them, run from them, or deny them.
That fear imprisons us emotionally. And it also shuts us off from all that grief is ready to teach us in the long-term about the deeper layers of meaning about how love actually works in our lives.
“I’m learning to appreciate each day for the gifts it brings.” “I treasure each person in my life and try to tell or show them how I value them.” You may have heard similar sentiments echoed by someone else. Or you heard yourself say them. Do not dismiss those sentiments.
But consider that grief likely has many more, deeper-lasting bits of life-wisdom to offer you in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. That potential wisdom is why being patient with ourselves can help us befriend grief rather than reject its tenacious presence in our lives.
Look at grief as a potential friend. (Something like Jesus saying “Love your enemy”?) Grief’s gifts of self-honesty and self-compassion can release us from fears we didn’t even know we have. One day, you might find yourself saying, “Grief, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.