Celebrating the Holidays When it Hurts

Guest Post By: Lisa Appelo

I usually love Christmastime. The smell of a Douglas fir in the living room and holiday music on the radio are wonderful. I love all the baking and cooking of Christmas and shopping for that one present that I know will bring a wide grin to my child.

But six years ago, we were facing a very painful Christmas. Six months earlier, my husband, Dan, and the amazing father to our seven children, had suffered a sudden heart attack and died. Life had been in a tailspin, and we entered the Christmas season with eight broken hearts. I knew that getting through every first without him would be hard and I needed to be very intentional about that first Christmas. 

What do you do when the holidays hurt? When someone you love is missing at the table or life has taken a sudden painful turn? While every family will deal with difficulty a bit differently, here are three things we did to help us through that hard, sad Christmas.

Mix it up. 

Don’t ignore the pain. It’s unhealthy to push through the holidays with a façade of happiness. There were certainly parts of that first Christmas that we enjoyed. I remember one night in particular when some good friends knocked on our front door and treated us to caroling and homemade goodies in my front yard. But we also cried at points and talked about how much we missed Dan. The healthiest way to address pain is to process it head on.

Remember the good.

One evening, we sat together as a family and spent time talking about some of our favorite Christmas memories. We laughed as I told them stories about their dad when we were dating and as they recalled funny stories I’d forgotten. Laughter is good medicine. Despite our pain, we had plenty of good to celebrate, and remembering the stories kept us knit together as we worked through our grief.

Focus on others.

We started a tradition called Days of Joy because we needed it so badly. Every day in December, we looked for someone to bless. One day, we put a cooler of sodas and homemade cookies out for our trash collectors and watched with delight when they stopped for them. We took doughnuts to our local firehouse, packed Operation Christmas child boxes, wrote letters to our Compassion child, and started a coin jar to give away. We still do this every December, a special tradition that came from our hardest Christmas.

Holidays are an especially difficult time when you’re hurting, but there are things you can do to help. Taking these intentional steps not only helped us get through that Christmas but brought a measure of healing.  

If you’re facing a hard Christmas, what steps could you take to help? How might you help if it’s someone else who will have a painful holiday?


Lisa Appelo writes at TrueandFaithful.net

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