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Christmas Conversations: Working through Grief in this Season

December 4, 2019
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This week, Dr. Andy Stoker offers some more thoughts on how to handle emotions and memories that this season often evokes. Below, Dr. Stoker speaks specifically on grief and how we can navigate in the weeks to come.

My grandmother kept an 8×10 framed photograph of my grandfather on her kitchen table. Every meal time she would say a prayer with my grandfather; sometimes, she would talk to him when she needed a conversation partner. She asked me if I thought it was strange for her to talk to my grandfather in that way. I told her, “Absolutely not! His memory remains with us.” It is like the millions of faithful Christians who pray with, and ask advice of, religious icons. You’ve seen them: a woman or a man, illustrated and staring directly back at you. My grandmother, in her beloved memory of my grandfather, was in conversation with him daily.

This season of winter, of Christmas, of the New Year often brings to bear feelings of depression, loss, and even despair. Those feelings together (and apart) point to grief.  Grief is an indication that you are still affected by a person, an event or a series of events in your life. Grief is not a linear movement, wherein we check boxes like a task list and then we are ‘finished’ with grieving. No, grief is a guest in our lives. This season is a season of guests, so how do we welcome “Grief” as a guest (and even spiritually befriend the guest)?

Here is a short list of prayerfulness/mindfulness tips in welcoming a guest:

1) When a feeling arises, pause, breathe, and recognize the feeling. So often we “work through” or shift our focus from a feeling that is discomforting. As part of our healthy process, becoming aware of the feeling is a way of welcoming the feeling. Much of our grief work is becoming aware. When we are unaware or surprised by grief it plunges us to our more stressful selves.

2) Talk about the best parts and the worst parts of the holidays. We expect people to be mind readers. If we do not talk to people about our thoughts and feelings, our wants and needs, during the holiday, then our friends will continue to move forward expecting you to move along with them. Open up with a trusted person, give them the highlights and the lowlight, and offer them the opportunity to listen deeply.

3) Journal. Take 3-5 minutes every day to journal. Set a timer, sit in a comfortable place and write until the bell rings. Write anything. Your daily prompt can be: “This is the day the Lord has made . . .” Then fill in the rest with whatever your thoughts and feelings are. Then, every Sunday evening, go back and look at what you wrote. Are there themes? What are the top two feelings you’ve been aware of this week?

Andy’s beloved grandmother

On my desk in my office and at home, I have pictures of family members, friends and mentors with whom I am in conversation daily. This Christmas, I know I will miss those whom I have loved in this life. And, I know that I will give God thanks for those who have inspired and encouraged my faith in Jesus Christ and my hope for God’s world. The promise of the Incarnated Word in Christ is “We are not alone.” I will rehearse my Christmas Eve sermon with my grandmother’s photo nearby, believing all along the Love she introduced me to is the Love to which she was returned. May God bless those Christmas conversations in your heart and around your table.

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