Within seconds of waking up on Christmas morning, one of my very first thoughts was, “Merry Christmas, Hannah.” (Hannah is our daughter who passed away in April 2017. You can read more about her here.) It’s not that I thought she could hear me in that moment. But still, it felt right and good to wish her a Merry Christmas. All the while my heart sank that I couldn’t say it to her in person. Would Jesus tell her for me? That’s probably a silly thought, but I couldn’t help but wonder.
You see, it’s not that Christmas morning was the first time I thought about the fact that our baby girl wouldn’t be with us. I had thought about it numerous times over the past few weeks. Doing fun activities with our son like decorating a gingerbread house, looking at Christmas lights, and buying and wrapping presents were so much fun, and we made sweet memories. But I couldn’t shake the ache in my heart that Hannah Grace wasn’t there with us. Her presence was missing, and it left a sad feeling in my heart despite how happy I was to be spending that time with my husband and my son.
So Christmas Day has come, and I knew it would be a hard, bittersweet day. I knew it would be a day filled with fun, joyful times with family but also a day of deep sadness. And I was right. Every minute seems tinged with this tension of being joyful for the moment I am experiencing but being sad and missing our Hannah. I feel like my heart is being pulled apart. How do I reconcile the two? How do I enjoy the sweet moments of a special day while also grieving our loss? It’s possible that you’ve experienced this tension as well. Maybe you have lost a child, or a parent, or a good friend. Maybe you just got laid off or you were diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. I’m not sure what you’re specific loss is, but we all experience loss of some kind, not just the loss of someone we love, and we find ourselves navigating the tension of being joyful while still grieving.
So how do we do it? Honestly I’m still learning, and I know I will keep navigating it my entire life. Here’s what I have learned so far though. Please know that I’m not a counselor; these are just things that I have found helpful today on our first Christmas without our daughter.
Be Real with Yourself
Stuffing down my sadness and pretending like I’m not hurting never works. In my quiet spaces, I allow myself to be real and to come out with how I’m really feeling. I woke up sad on Christmas morning. There, I said it. Christmas songs, TV ads, and stores are filled with sentiments of being joyful and merry at Christmastime. It’s as if everything screams that you should be happy, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t happy. And the faster I was real with my myself about how I was really feeling, the faster I could process the waves of grief that started rolling in.
Be Real With Others
And this is where I mess up all the time. Telling those you’re with how you’re feeling is huge. I’m not saying you have to express every single thing that’s on your mind (though you can if you need to), but letting them know that you’re struggling is helpful to both you and them. I didn’t say anything to my husband until almost 11 o’clock Christmas morning. And when it finally came out that I was trying to hide my sad heart from him and put on a happy smile (which I wasn’t doing a good job of), it not only helped me get it out there, but it helped him, too. He fully empathized with how I was feeling, and then he asked what he could do to help me process through my grief today. I told him I could use some quiet time in the afternoon just to sit and write, and he gladly helped make that happen which leads to my third point…
Carve Out Quiet Space
Seems simple enough. But did I start my Christmas Day with prayer? Nope. Did I start with reading Scripture. No, again. Sometimes we need quiet space just to be able to process through how we’re feeling so we can be real with ourselves. Sometimes we need quiet space to be able to look through pictures of our loved one or remember special memories of him/her. Sometimes we need it to take a moment away from the hustle and bustle of the day to be able to sit, be still, breathe, read Scripture, write, and/or pray. Carving out quiet time in your day on a daily basis is a hugely beneficial discipline. But it’s easy to not make that time on a busy holiday like Christmas. Do it, especially if you’re grieving. Getting away from the crazy is hard, but covering up your pain and hiding it from yourself and others because you haven’t had time to process it is worse.
Above All, Remember the Lord
I know that approaching a holiday while grieving is hard. This first Christmas without Hannah Grace has been especially tough for me. But I’m so grateful that there is a God who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to this earth. He sent Him to earth as our Rescuer and our Redeemer. He knows the pain of losing His Son as He watched Him die on the cross some 30 years later. He knows the pain of our loss. He’s not some distant God who doesn’t care about our grief. He is loving and good. So this Christmas Day, while my heart is breaking inside, my soul is rejoicing in my God, the One who sent our rescuer, our Savior. The One who knows our pain and moves closer to us while we are in the midst of it. I’m still navigating how to rejoice while grieving, but I’m so thankful I have a God who does not abandon me. He moves in closer to me in my pain. He’s not only walking alongside me, but he is inside me, sustaining me and strengthening me. It’s not about forgetting my pain. Rather it’s about remembering the Lord in my painful moments and clinging to Him. Being real with myself, being real with others, and finding quiet space all have helped me navigate this Christmas. Ultimately, though, I would be a mess if I didn’t remember the Lord and turn to Him in dependence and rejoice in His everlasting love and presence. That is how I rejoice while grieving this Christmas Day.
Pressing on in faith, Jennifer