Sometimes Christmas hurts. The sights and sounds of Christmas are designed to trigger the joy of looking forward to loving and connecting with friends and family. Yet for those who are grieving or in emotional pain these same sights and sounds will pierce their heart with a hidden, lonely aching. So, how do those of us who are grieving or in pain this year care for our hurting hearts?
First, lovingly acknowledge that part of you that is suffering. Be gentle with yourself. There is no use resisting or numbing it; suffering expands when we resist it. Set aside a little time now and then to directly say “hello” to it. Gently place your hand over the part of your body where you feel it most intensely, and gently say, “I’m here with you; I know it hurts.” Ask this place in your body what it needs to feel a little better. You might also try expressing this felt pain through drawing, dance or writing. Consider writing a letter to God or to the person who is gone. You might also want to explore how you would continue these sentences:
What hurts the most about this is…
What I will miss the most this year is…
I have a hard time letting go of…
Second, create a tradition that helps to honor your pain. Our family lights a special candle on Christmas day to acknowledge the pain of doing Christmas without my Dad, who died a few years ago. A friend of mine started a tradition of serving the homeless on Christmas day ever since her children moved out of town.
Third, be intentional about getting the support you need. When our heart is hurting it is tempting to withdraw and avoid people. You might choose to miss a gathering or two. That’s OK. But be sure to spend some time with people and ask for what you need. You might want to consider finding a grief counselor or support group.
Finally, explore your life with gratitude. Even (and especially) when we are carrying emotional pain it is crucial to exercise the courage to notice the good things and give thanks. Perhaps this is why we decorate with small lights during the darkest days of the year. Deep down we know that even in the darkest places there is a small light waiting to come on. As Henri Nouwen has said: “Our cup of sorrow is also our cup of joy…one day we will be able to taste the joy as fully as we now taste the sorrow.”
May you gently embrace your heart this season with great compassion, courage and gratitude.