by Deb Sewell and Dr. Pat O’Malley, PhD

This is the second in a series of articles leading to Arborlawn’s Hope for the Holidays service, Thursday, November 19th in the Sanctuary.

In our last article we discussed the idea that we “cannot not grieve”. When we love and lose something or someone, we grieve. In one way or another, now or later, we grieve. We also discussed the importance of realizing how the holidays often trigger our senses, particularly through sights, smells and sounds, making us more sensitive to our loss and grief.

This week, we will discuss the importance of giving words and descriptions to our loss and making plans now for the holidays.

To quote Dr. Patrick O’Malley:

People who talk about their grief often use similes and metaphors to describe their experience.
“Grief is like being on an emotional roller coaster.” “Grief is like being in the ocean and waves of sadness wash over me.” “Grief is a mountain to scale.” “Grief is shattering.” They also use examples of physical injury to express the experience of loss. They may feel their grief as a deep wound that requires time to heal. A wound implies that as it heals, the pain of grief will lessen and end. Yet for many, grief is an experience that does not end. I also hear the bereaved say their grief feels like the loss of a limb, which suggests that bereaved people must live their lives with a part of themselves always missing. Find words and images that describe your grief experience. Use them to help you navigate your way in this uncharted territory of loss.”

As we move into the holidays, please consider journaling your own unique words and images as Dr. O’Malley has suggested. In light of the rapidly approaching holiday season, you might find it helpful to be specific regarding a family tradition or seasonal event. How does it feel that it will be different? Be specific. Try to keep your focus on the upcoming holidays, rather than future years.

One more thought with regard to beginning now to plan a different kind of holiday:

In general, we don’t usually maintain our typical level of resilience while grieving, indicating you might consider lowering expectations of yourself for the holiday season. Ask a caring friend to help you make a plan in advance, taking into consideration your emotional and physical reserve for that day, week or even the two-month season. Be flexible. Give yourself permission to change that plan. How many school, work or church parties, social functions, etc will you attend, if any? As you are able, include family members (especially grieving children) in the planning of your holidays as well as making changes to plans you have made. Again, the idea is to make plans for this holiday season only.

In closing, the Amplified version of the scriptures captures the final words of Christ before His ascension: “And, lo, I am with you always (remaining with you perpetually-regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion), even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is reminding us that in spite of what we may feel, we are never alone. Never. Not in life. Not in death. Not in our grief.

The articles on Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays are provided by Deb Sewell, lay minister and grief/bereavement support at Arborlawn UMC with the collaboration of Dr. Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling for the last 35 years. For more blog posts on grief, please see:

If you or someone you know has suffered loss and is dreading the upcoming holidays, bring them with you, Thursday evening, November 19th@ 7:00 p.m. for Hope for the Holidays, a service of inspiration, comfort and hope. Other information about Hope for the Holidays and articles on grieving the holidays can be found here.

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