Q: My mother recently passed away, and the reality that we're celebrating the Christmas season without her has been more difficult than I could've imagined. How can I get through this?
Jim: My heart goes out to you. As you're experiencing, Christmastime and other holidays can amplify the pain that comes with losing a loved one. Our family is grieving with you, having just lost a mother and grandmother of our own four months ago. For those of us struggling with heartache, here are some thoughts for getting through this holiday season a bit easier.
First, allow yourself to be comfortable with the idea that emotions will run high this Christmas. It's healthy and perfectly acceptable for a family to cry together, even on Christmas. Instead of stuffing your grief or pretending everything is fine, it's usually helpful to acknowledge your pain.
But it's also important to be OK with celebrating the holiday. Some people may struggle with guilt if happiness or laughter pops up in the midst of their grief. Give yourselves permission to experience whatever emotions arise.
Another idea is to scale back this Christmas. When you're grieving, holiday gatherings can be emotionally draining. Observing a few traditions can help the family maintain some stability, but help one another be realistic about what everyone needs and feels up for.
Finally, Christmas can create opportunities to bless others in need. Consider reaching out to another family or giving to a charity in your loved one's name. Blessing others can often bring joy even in the midst of grief.
When your heart is aching, life can feel pretty dark. For anyone who finds himself or herself in a hard, painful place this Christmas, I invite you to call one of our counselors at 855-771-4357. They'd be privileged to offer you a compassionate, listening ear or an encouraging word.
Q: Should my husband and I spend Christmas morning together with the kids at his parents' house, even though we've been separated for four months? Although I'd love to see my girls open their presents, I'm afraid this will send them mixed messages about the marital problems they know we're experiencing. What do you think is the right choice for my children?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: A great deal depends on specific circumstances and the goals and intentions with respect to the future of your marriage.
For instance: Are you actively working on your relationship during this separation? Have you been seeing a counselor and taking steps to resolve your differences? Are you trying to put the marriage back together? If so, it would probably be a good idea to maintain your family's holiday traditions and keep the celebration of Christmas as normal as possible. Far from sending mixed messages to your children, this will demonstrate unity and solidarity, showing them that you're working together to weather the storm and giving them hope that the family is going to remain intact.
If, on the other hand, you see little hope for reconciliation at this point, then we'd advise you to think twice about accepting your husband's invitation. Under these circumstances, there's a very real danger that the celebration your spouse is planning could come across as a bit of insincere play-acting -- a phony attempt to assume an appearance of normality. This could prove extremely confusing for the kids.
Whatever the situation, I'd strongly encourage you to give our licensed counselors a call (855-771-4357). They'd be privileged to hear more of your story and offer some helpful direction.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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